*Disclosure: This review contains plot spoilers.

The original “Candyman”, directed by Bernard Rose, was released in 1992. He created a horror legend while breaking the box office. On Aug. 27, “Candyman” was brought back to life by director Nia DaCosta, the first Black female director to debut No.1 at the box office. The film was written by DaCosta, Win Rosenfeld, and Jordan Peele—and was an hour and 31 minutes of complete confusion.

If you are going to attempt to understand this movie, it is absolutely crucial that you see the 1992 version first. I went into theaters thinking “Candyman” was just a remake of the cult classic, but it was much more of a sequel, or should I say a “quartet.” There were two earlier sequels to the original that came out several years prior to “Candyman” (2021). But after those did poorly at the box office, DaCosta decided to write her version of “Candyman” mainly as a continuation of the first original film. This review turned much more into an explanation of the storyline because of how confusing it might seem to viewers.

The film starts with a young boy named William Burke in 1977’s Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago. He’s tasked with doing laundry at an eerie laundromat where he first encounters Candyman, Sherman Fields— played by Michael Hargrove. 

Candyman isn’t a man or one person, Burke says “he’s the whole damn hive.” Sherman was an odd fellow who handed out candy to local children, so when razor blades started showing up in kids’ candy, guess who they blamed? When cops found Fields they shot him on sight like an animal— no trial, no justice. His innocence was proven weeks after his death when razorblades continued to appear in kids’ candy. It’s here that the urban legend of Candyman arose from the ashes once again.

In the original, there is a different Candyman origin story about a man named Daniel Robitaille — played byTony Todd—, who was lynched and killed after having an affair with the daughter of a prominent wealthy white man. 

Candyman isn’t just one person; it’s many. But the legend of Candyman is always seen with a hook for his right hand and a swarm of bees following. The hive and bee symbolism harken back to how the original Candyman was smeared with honey and attacked by hundreds of bees. As the producer and writer Jordan Peele says, what Candyman wants more than anything is to be eternal, and he achieves this through killing his victims and being ingrained in the psyche of those who believe in him.

After Burke’s encounter with Candyman, the film fast forwards 42 years to 2019. The protagonist, Anthony McCoy— played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II—is a struggling artist who lives with his more affluent girlfriend Brianna— played by Teyonah Parris— in a new apartment right where Cabrini-Green used to be. All that remains of the housing projects are abandoned dilapidated two-story houses. The high-rises shown in the original were torn down in the ‘90s, in a cycle of gentrification: white men force Black people into the projects, then white men take them out, and the cycle repeats.

Anthony is looking for inspiration for a new art exhibit after being told by a curator that his work just isn’t cutting it. So when Anthony hears the story of Helen Lyle, the protagonist from the original “Candyman,” he travels to the abandoned Cabrini-Green to check it out. There he takes photos just like Helen did and is also stung by a bee. Over the course of the film, the bee sting turns into a gruesome, honeycomb-like sore that overtakes his body.

Anthony is startled when he finds a now-adult William Burke— played by Colman Domingo— on the Cabrini grounds. Burke knows a lot about Candyman and recites to Anthony the story of him and Candyman as a child. Anthony becomes inspired, using the story to create some brand-new paintings for his art exhibit. However, the showing doesn’t go over well with Chicago art critic Finley Stevens— played by Rebecca Spence. The “Say My Name” exhibit explains the legend of Candyman, while also conjuring images of the Black Lives Matter slogan “Say Their Names,” a saying used to remember the Black men and women who died at the hands of police brutality. Like the police brutality victims, Candyman can only be remembered if you say his name; for Candyman, this is quite literal. For him to appear, one must say his name five times in the mirror.

Several Candyman murders occur after Anthony’s art exhibit brought the legend back to life. Anthony sees the news of the murders but is more interested in his name being blasted on TV. It’s here you really start to see a descent into madness, as his body and mind succumb to Candyman’s power.

Anthony does more research into Helen Lyle, uncovering her audio tapes from the University of Chicago where she was a graduate student. He learns that the Candyman folklore was created as a means of self-preservation for the Cabrini-Green community, a way for them to consolidate the horrors of everyday life into a mythical figure. In several scenes, Anthony looks into a mirror and his reflection is Candyman himself, hinting at a next generation.

Brianna confronts Anthony, who has now started to lose his mind, and he tells her Candyman is real. Another Candyman murder occurs in the girl’s restroom at a high school. “Say My Name” was written in blood on the wall, leading the cops to believe Anthony is responsible. 

Later, while getting his bee sting examined, he learns he was born near Cabrini-Green in that very hospital. He is confused; his mother told him he was born on the South Side. He confronts his mom who is, shockingly, Anne-Marie McCoy—played by Vanessa Williams—, a character from the original film. She tells Anthony that he was the baby boy captured by Candyman in 1992 and saved by Helen Lyle. Candyman’s purpose for him was to be a sacrifice in a giant fire, from which Helen saved him. From that day forward, Anne-Marie vowed to never say Candyman’s name again and fabricated Anthony’s past in order to protect him. 

Brianna tracks down William Burke in the hopes that he might know Anthony’s whereabouts but ends up getting captured by him. Burke also captures Anthony who, at this point, is in some sort of fugue-like state. He doesn’t even feel it when Burke saws off his arm and inserts a hook in its place. 

Burke wants to recreate Anthony in Candyman’s image, attempting to save the last remaining part of Cabrini-Green, in an effort to protect it from the viciousness of the outside world. If Brianna is to bear witness to Candyman’s return and tell the world he’s real, no one will want to move there. Burke says the gentrifying white upper-class “tore down our homes so they could move back in. We need Candyman.” 

It all harkens back to what Helen Lyle said in the original film: Candyman’s legend was used to help Black people in a society with police brutality. In this way, Candyman is two contradictory things at the same time: killer and protector. 

Brianna manages to escape her confines, and, in her escape, she kills Burke. Anthony arrives and collapses in her arms as a squad of police cars shows up abruptly. The cops shoot Anthony on sight, even though he was no danger and had no trial—basically an exact repeat of what happened to Sherman at the beginning of the film. Brianna is put in the back of a squad car where one of the policemen tells her that the situation can go two ways: she either can testify that Anthony lunged at one of the cops and the shooting was justified, or she can go down as an accomplice. It’s another form of how corrupt this police force is. Brianna says she’ll agree to anything as long as she can use his rearview mirror, which she uses to summon Candyman.

Candyman appears in the form of Anthony, killing all of the cops, who happen to be white. It’s evident that all past Candymen are the haunting reminder of Black men wrongfully killed in racially motivated murders. Brianna watches as the cops are killed and a swarm of bees around Candyman’s face parts to reveal the original Candyman from 1992, ​​Daniel Robitaille, who commands her to “tell everybody.” He spares Brianna, because Candyman can’t exist without people believing in him; if she survives she can tell his story and strike fear in a new generation. The ending leaves open the potential for even more sequels, as Candyman will always be around as long as we remember him.

The shots in “Candyman” (2021) were beautiful. The angles were unique, the colors in every scene synced together to create harmony and the modern film techniques used made the new generation of “Candyman” come to life. 

Unfortunately, I found this film to be extremely confusing. The importance of seeing the original “Candyman” first was very unclear, as the name of the film is the exact same, which leads viewers to believe it’s a remake. I had no idea what was going on until I saw the 1992 original. 

I expected much more from the film co-written by Jordan Peele. Films worked on by Peele, such as “Get Out” (2017) and “Us” (2019), always seem to have metaphorical underlying meanings. As a very big fan of Peele, this is one of my least favorite movies by him so far.

As someone who loves psychological thrillers and horror movies, I found “Candyman” to be quite scattered and extremely hard to follow. If you are in the mood for a film that’ll confuse you to the point of frustration, this is the film for you.


Follow Gianna Kelley on Twitter, @gianna_kelleyyy

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