The world of Candyman is all upside down and backward. As if truth can only be seen reflected. In a way, that’s what a camera lens does—it takes an image, inverts it, and captures it. And when the image is projected, things appear upside right and right side up.

To that effect, director Nia DaCosta sets the stage before Candyman even begins by flipping the movie’s production titles on the x-axis. Later, she’ll use upside-down shots of Chicago’s skyline to make it look like the city itself is plunging into a demonic fog. Both are effective and grab your attention, as do the myriad reversals, reflections, and things caught out of the corner of your eye.

Candyman opens in 1977 in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood—a long stretch of two-story project houses defined by brown brick and a treeless sky. Young William Burke (Rodney L. Jones III) heads down to the laundry room and discovers a large hole in the wall. Living inside is Candyman, a man in a long yellow coat with a meat hook for a hand. Buzzing bees announce his presence, and he offers Burke pieces of hard candy. Somewhere in the city, a young girl was gravely injured by a razor blade hidden inside a piece of candy. The police suspect Candyman and are culling the projects for him. Then Burke screams, and the cops come running. Soon, Candyman, Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove), is no more.

Police violence courses through Candyman, intersecting the Black Lives Matter chant of “Say their name” with Candyman’s summoning game, which dares the player to look into a mirror and recite “Candyman” five times. It’s a neat twist in a movie filled with neat twists on old tricks. So are the ideas of gentrification and the long shadow of American atrocities.

If only the scares were better. After introducing Burke and Sherman Fields, Candyman skips forward to 2019 and centers on two artists: Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyonah Parris). Everyone else is fodder for Candyman.

Images courtesy Universal Pictures.

What works is the atmosphere DaCosta crafts, the production design by Cara Brower—which transforms everyday spaces into something sinister—and Candyman’s urban legend, presented via magic lantern puppets.

Candyman is teeming with ideas about Black lives and portals into our past. In one scene, Anthony explains his latest piece to a critic (Rebecca Spence). On the surface, the work is a three-panel mirror, the kind you would find on a medicine cabinet in most bathrooms. A handout encourages the patron to look into the mirror and say the name “Candyman” five times. But, if you were to look past the obvious, and open one of the mirrors, then you see into another room with paintings of the dead hung in a space just this side of a nightmare. The metaphor is obvious, so much so that Anthony’s peers mocking him for it. 

But it works for Candyman. On one surface, all you can see is yourself. Under that is a history of injustice and suffering. And to summon it back up, all you have to do is say their names.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Candyman (2021)
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Written by Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld
Based on the movie Candyman, written and directed by Bernard Rose, based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker
Produced by Ian Cooper, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld
Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd, Rebecca Spence, Michael Hargrove
Universal Pictures, Rated R, Running time 91 minutes, Opens Aug. 27, 2021

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