Jordan Peele's latest production is good, but doesn't live up to its potential.
The original Candyman, a cult favourite based upon a short story by Clive Barker and directed by Bernard Rose, is a personal favourite and remains a landmark horror film for its racial politics (up there with Night of the Living Dead and The People Under the Stairs, the latter of which remains unsung but does have a cult following). Whilst Night of the Living Dead’s racial statement was merely coincidental (the casting was simply made to fit Romero’s favourite performance from his auditions), Candyman was much more direct and differentiated itself with its focus on myths, belief and race.
Its sequel added to this, revealing Tony Todd’s iconic character’s background as a man killed due to his race. The lore of the character becomes a strong political statement, and so it made a lot of sense to see Jordan Peele’s name attached to a remake (as producer) when the rumours began in 2019, shortly after the release of his second film as a director, Us. Peele’s focus on allegoric horror certainly come through here, and his presence is also deeply felt through this 2021 reboot with the shared themes of identity and mirror images from Us.
Thankfully, in sticking with the very well handled grim tone of the story, this film sees Peele restrain his usual comic inflections and (mostly) avoid sabotaging scenes of tension by having the audience laugh them off. However, his presence still holds the film back to a capacity – he seems to have forgotten since Get Out how to write a satisfying ending and to be careful with his messaging, as unfortunately the new Candyman does lose some of its effect to predictability and thoughtlessness, losing its way a few times by going the easy way rather than the right one.
A clear highlight is the sound design, though, which glitches and thunders and taps and thuds almost constantly alongside the score which broods over the gorgeous cinematography. Formally, that’s really as good as it gets, as the performances and character work leave much to be desired and are only really serviceable.
Candyman’s latest iteration feels like a great film cut short (or at least cut down) as it seems to prioritise being shocking over taking its time to make a larger impact. Rather than being stirring, as a film with themes of police brutality, gentrification, generational violence and the history of African-Americans certainly should be, it trades in many of these points just to add a minor depth to the lore of the Candyman character, and loses its footing by trying to have its cake (a fun thriller) and eat it (score political points and create a discussion). It’s an entertaining time, but it’s hard to not be a little bitter about the amount of wasted potential here.
Candyman, distributed by Universal Studios, is currently in cinemas with a certificate 15. Watch the trailer on YouTube below: