After hearing about the urban legend of the Candyman and the 1992 events of Cabrini, green artist Anthony McCoy (Yayha Abdul-Mateen II) creates a series of art pieces to explain the effect of the Candyman legend. But once the legend is awoken, strange and sinister things begin to happen, which eventually leads Anthony and his partner Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris) to realise that the necessity of the Candyman isn’t to enact horror -m but justice.
If you’re looking for a jumping scare, or a fantastical, bloody horror film, then this isn’t it – but then you’d also be wrong to go into this film assuming that this would be that sort of movie. As the film is directed by Jordan Peele, you should know that jumps and gore are not his styles. He works with more of the psychological aspect of the horror genre combined with as much pro-blackness and black knowledge as the film requires, if it requires any at all. So, while I was not disappointed by that fact, I know it is a fact that may disappoint others.
What’s more, there has been some claim that this is a racist film, that it is too didactic, that it’s trying too hard to be political, and that it’s taking away from the simple entertainment of the first film. To an extent, I understand this. Though the first film, released in 1992, had elements of the themes discussed in the sequel (racism, gentrification), the first Candyman isn’t really about race – the second one is.
This sequel tries to take the events of the first film and building on them thirty years later to make sense of the questions that the first film threw up but never answered.
The original was more focused on the horror aspect of the film rather than the why. And this shouldn’t shock audiences. All fantasy films (horror or otherwise) are drawn from the issues in the world at the time.
Mia Brabham from the blog Shondaland points out that:
“When you peel back the layers and look more closely, all horror movies are a sign of the times — a peek into the cultural zeitgeist and society’s greatest fears at the moment. Films in the 1950s reflected the terror surrounding scientific advancements and threats from unknown sources through monsters (The Thing, Them!, Godzilla, Horror of Dracula). The ’70s took on youth counterculture (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead) and the uneasiness played out in demonic and satanic horror riddled with evil children (Audrey Rose, The Omen). The 1990s had witchy movies (The Craft, Eve’s Bayou, The Blair Witch Project) that reflected the fear of and fascination with female power, and the recent landscape of the genre has explored grief and mental health through psychological horror (Midsommar, Hereditary, Babadook).”
Even films like the 2014 film Dracula: Untold draw on geo and culturally political issues, like the issues of the west and the Muslim east.
And all of these films are fine because either the message is not overt, or these films don’t deal with issues that audiences hate talking about. However, there are few issues that audiences hate being pushed in their face more than the realities of black hate in western Anglo-American societies.
This new film attempts to take an old story and make it relevant to a new audience. This audience should be more clued up than its predecessors and be asking more questions about the meanings of the films.
“Candyman ain’t a ‘he.’ Candyman’s the whole damn hive.”
In the post-Black Lives Matter era, watching the original Candyman should through up questions like Why was Helen the conduit for the candy man and not someone else? Why did the Candyman want to be remembered at all? And why go after innocents to be remembered?
This film takes that story out of that space of being a simple ‘horror’ and explains these questions. The film explains that Helen was chosen because her death, as a white woman, would cause the most noise. That the candy man wants to be remembered because he was an innocent victim of the anti-black system. And he goes after innocents because every time there is an unjust murder that is public, we try to remember them to give the victims some sort of power over death and give us, as black people, the will to keep fighting against the system.
The film’s strengths, which makes up for its lack of sharp scares, is that it makes its point very clear in its uses of the line that has been floating around in our collective consciousness for the last few years in the wake of the countless murders of innocent black people by police forces: “say their name.”
This is why the Candyman has returned thirty years later because of how many more innocent deaths we have witnessed in the last few years – he’s the avenging angel and the collective reincarnation of those lost who need to be remembered. In continued remembrance and discussion, there is power, power for us to keep what is ours, and power to remind others not to mistreat us again.
As for those who think the film is racist – it isn’t – but it does show the uncomfortable truth. By carrying out relative micro-aggressions like gentrification and using condescending speech that reduces black people to what they can provide rather than who they are – many white people inherit the crimes of their ancestors – and by being the continued recipients of these micro-aggressions we as black people inherit the pain and anger of ours. So, our avenging angel won’t come after us – it has to come after those who offend us. And in a reality that doesn’t allow that to happen – art has to provide a space for that vengeance to be enacted in a safe and relevant way.
“I am the writing on the wall”
So, is it a good film?
Yes – but only if you’re not expecting too much gore and scares. It’s not a horror film. It’s an allegory for the socio-political issues facing black people in the diaspora. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching, though – because it definitely is. Watch the film for more than a good dose of entertainment – watch it to see the damage that systemic racism does to a collective consciousness and visually experience our pain incarnated as something that may scare you – because it should.