Thursday, August 26, 2021

Reimagining a 1992 horror movie


    Director Nia DaCosta's Candyman has been described as a "spiritual sequel" to its 1992 predecessor. I'd call it more of a "rethink" in which the original movie has been given an updated agenda. 
     While keeping her eye on horror-movie obligations, DaCosta infuses the proceedings with visual style and thematic ambition replacing the 1992's white academic with a black Chicago artist.
    Yahya Abdul-Mateen II portrays Anthony McCoy, an artist who lives with his curator girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) in an upscale condo built on the site of the mostly demolished Cabrini-Green Homes, a housing project where much of the original was set.
      McCoy becomes increasingly obsessed with the story of Candyman, a tale most of the other characters regard as an urban legend -- until they no longer can.
       The legend springs from a 19th-century tale about Daniel Robitaille (Tony Toddy) an aspiring black artist who was tortured, given a hook for a hand, and burned by racist thugs sent by the father of a white girl who had fallen in love with Robitaille. Robitaille became Candyman, the killer who haunted the Cabrini Green projects.
       The horror element stems from an additional conceit. Anyone who looks into a mirror and says the name Candyman five times will summon Candyman who'll proceed to rip them apart with his hook.
        Gory, sure. But DaCosta -- working from a screenplay by Win Rosenfeld and Jordan Peel, the director of Get Out and Us, two equally ambitious horror movies -- tempers the bloodshed by suggesting a variety of broader themes. Among them: the hypocrisies of gentrification, the pretensions of the art world, and the history of racial violence and the rage it can breed.
        Abdul-Mateen's increasingly powerful performance anchors a movie that features Colman Domingo as the man who first alerts McCoy to the Candyman legend. 
         I wouldn't say that everything about Candyman works but DaCosta's visual approach (keeping the camera at a distance while showing one of the murders through an apartment window, for example) reflects a strong level of imagination.
       The use of shadow puppets to fill in the movie's backstory proves even more novel. These displays of puppetry -- scenes of racial violence and injustice -- remind us about what underlies the events we're watching.
        You can see DaCosta's inventiveness right from the start. She brilliantly opens the film by turning the world upside down, subverting cliche by shooting the streets of Chicago by pointing her camera at the sky rather than the relying on typical images in which we look down at the city from above. 
      Her choice disturbs and provokes and sets the stage for a movie that deserves credit for having more than exploitative thrills on its mind. 

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