A good horror movie gravitates around a strong central metaphor. With the original Candyman, the premise leads to a lot of wider symbolic opportunity: an evergreen centre that can be applied in multiple ways and in different contexts. Nia DaCosta’s reboot, and semi-sequel, takes full advantage of this. In fact, it gets lost in taking advantage of this. The fertility of the metaphor leads to a film that spends its, admittedly short, runtime pushing in different directions and exploring a whole host of symbolic avenues. Each is independently satisfying, even when it gets more didactic, but a whole host of intelligent moments does not make for a cohesive whole. It is a beautiful movie, a very well directed movie and a debut that indicates a really interesting filmmaker; it just does not quite come together.
There is so much to like here, though. One of the film’s greatest strength is in how it captures the city. It is set in Chicago and finds really atypical and interesting ways to shoot and present it. The usual icons are mostly avoided, matching a film that is fundamentally about what lies beneath and what is forgotten (or pushed down). So much of the imagery is so striking and so memorable, the few horror set pieces also impressing. A lot of them feel like diversions, more steps away from a solid core, but each time the titular Candyman is summoned, what ensues is delightfully entertaining. Here, our iconic villain only appears in reflection, giving the film a lot of fun ways to show and not show the damage being done. Some will accuse the film of being toothless but the film also just does not wallow in violence and suffering, something at the core of what it wants to say about hurt and cyclical oppression. It is cathartic violence, satisfying in a genre way, but it is not indulgent.
We also have some fun characters. Though, it has to be said that the film pushes forward too quickly, and into too many areas, for its promising cast to actually get what they deserve. This being the case, each performance is strong enough (and well directed enough) that our character moments are still engaging. The dialogue helps here. As a narrative work, the script stumbles, unsure of how to get all of its really interesting ideas to come together or quite what re-imagining of the possibility of Candyman it actually wants to do. The dialogue, however, is snappy, with sparking exchanges. Yes, it is all rather on the nose. Relevant things are said very directly, but these things do have a direct relevance, so this only feels fair. Also, the film has fun with this. There is a knowing wit to it: it is entertainingly blatant and aware of how up front it is being (even with witty remarks about this). Also, the noses it is on are all intelligent noses. Yes, it just says some stuff but it is stuff that is rarely said and that needs to be.
In the end, this is more of a showcase of DaCosta’s potential as a filmmaker than anything else. The look of the film is wonderful, the direction so confident and the feel of everything transcends its narrative issues. Things feel missing, the ending is very cool but comes far too abruptly and, ultimately, a lot of what you see feels unnecessary to what the film becomes. It is an uneven ride in description, but it does not quite feel like that when you are watching it. This Candyman is by no means a great movie, but it is pulled off with a deft touch that makes it incredibly endearing.