Candyman: There goes the neighbourhood, again

This sequel to the horror classic is a blood-soaked treatment of the United States’ racial tensions

Candyman
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Director: Nia DaCosta
Cert: 16
Genre: Horror
Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd
Running Time: 1 hr 31 mins

There has already been some controversy about the foregrounding of Jordan Peele’s name in the publicity for this effective sequel (please, please don’t say “reboot”) to a durable 1992 horror with the same title. Fair enough.

Nia DaCosta, young director of the fine Little Woods, is behind the camera and she shows a real gift for gruesome showboating. One particular slaughter, shot at great distance amid the gentrified apartment blocks of a once working-class Chicago neighbourhood, ties the film’s sociopolitical themes in with its genre objectives very effectively. The camera is always aware of threats in peripheral vision. Timing is spot-on throughout. No wonder, with The Marvels, DaCosta (31) recently became the youngest ever director signed to direct an MCU flick.

Let us be honest, though. Whoever was directing a horror film produced and co-written by Peele (DaCosta and Win Rosenfeld also have script credits) that shared so many concerns with Get Out and Us, he or she would still be in their Oscar-winning collaborator’s shadow. Even if Peele weren’t involved, his name would feature in any review of Candyman. He is the emperor of this territory.

Early on, it becomes apparent that the film is playing less nuanced tones than those in Peele’s earlier horror work. Lest you miss the point that Candyman is concerned with urban gentrification and with recent African-American involvement in those transformations, the process is explained in a conversation between Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an acclaimed black artist, and his equally well-dressed pals as they loll about a gorgeous apartment with panoramic views. We hear how the white establishment allowed ’hoods to decline and then, after the bohemians had their go, sent the diggers in to create exclusive residential enclaves.

Later, speaking to Anthony, a critic blames “your type” for the changes and, when he raises an outraged eyebrow, clarifies that she means “artists”. As the film moves on towards an inevitable (though still surprising) engagement with recent racist outrages, we get some sense of the soft Faustian pact that has taken place.

The current developments are, of course, built over the land where myths about the eternally murderous Candyman first grew up. You won’t need to be told that, should you say the character’s name five times in front of a mirror (always two too many for my taste), he will appear and rip out your innards with his mighty hook. That is what, in the charismatic form of Tony Todd, he did for director Bernard Rose 30 years ago. The actor is back to spread more gall bladder and connective tissue across the bedrooms of Illinois.

These founding legends take on new meanings in the era of Black Lives Matter. Listening to how Candyman came to be what he is, one can’t help but think that, if the parents traumatised by Freddie Krueger’s campaign of terror had suspected him to be black, they would almost certainly have burned the wrong man to not-quite death.

The filmmakers go gently in their satire of the art scene. Someone does speak of “found lineages that culminate in the now,” but that barndoor is too broad to bother shooting at. The implicit (and sometimes explicit) discussions of the uncertain tolerance that white hierarchies have for better-off black citizens wind in with every sordid set-piece, but never get in the way of the escalating action.

For that DaCosta really does deserve praise. She presents the odd full-on blood-Pollock — the sort that once worked so well on VHS — but is more at home with incompletely grasped atrocities on the other side of closed doors. She may have a revitalised franchise on her hands.

On release from August 27th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist

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