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Candyman (Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital HD) Review

November 16, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Candyman Image Credit: MGM
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Candyman (Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital HD) Review  

Directed by: Nia DaCosta
Written by: Jordan Peele & Win Rosenfeld and Nia DaCosta

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: – Anthony McCoy
Teyonah Parris: – Brianna Cartwright
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett: – Troy Cartwright
Colman Domingo: – William Burke
Kyle Kaminsky: – Grady Greenberg
Vanessa Williams: – Anne-Marie McCoy
Brian King: – Clive Privler
Miriam Moss: – Jerrica Cooper
Rebecca Spence: – Finley Stephens
Carl Clemons-Hopkins: – Jameson
Christiana Clark: – Danielle Harrington
Michael Hargrove: – Sherman Fields
Rodney L. Jones III: – Billy

Domestic Gross: $61,186,570
Worldwide Gross: $77,409,235

DVD Release Date: November 16th, 2021
Running Time: 91 minutes

Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references.

2021 has been a year of rebuilding for mainstream cinema after 2020 was cut short due to the pandemic. While theaters are still not back to normal by any measure, this year has seen the return of big-name films in a major way from the MCU and Dune to Free Guy and more. That the return has included the resurgence of mainstream horror can’t be a surprise; horror saw quite a boom during the pandemic as a streaming-friendly genre that has always been able to excel during our darkest times.

Perhaps no film was more anticipated to horror fans than Candyman. Bernard White’s 1992 ghost slasher film is rightly venerated as high point in dreamlike horror and created an instant horror icon in Tony Todd’s titular character. While it did receive some less successful (and let’s be frank, highly inferior) sequels, the franchise seemed primed to return in the wake of Black horror’s renaissance spearheaded in part by Jordan Peele. Peele lent the influence gained by Get Out and Us to director Nia DaCosta’s take on the franchise, which had a successful run in theaters on the backs of critical buzz and positive word of mouth. Now releasing on home video, the revival has a chance to bring its twisty charms, solid themes, and visual strength to a new audience.

The Movie

DaCosta’s revival returns to Chicago and the area of Cabrini-Green, without reference to the events of the Farewell to the Flesh and Day of the Dead sequels. Instead of the titular ghost tormenting teachers or their children, the film centers on Anthony (Abdul-Mateen), a visual artist living with art gallery director Brianna (Parris) in a high-rise condo looming over the ashes of the aforementioned projects.

After Brianna’s brother Troy tells a remixed urban legend version of the original film’s events, Anthony – desperate for new inspiration after a long drought – investigates the story of Helen Lyle and finds much more. That journey takes him into a dark history of violence upon Black people and puts him on a collision course with the mythical Candyman.

Nia DaCosta has a daunting challenge in Candyman, as she is tasked with updating a horror classic while making it accessible and relevant to modern audiences. This is consistently the trickiest tightrope act that these modern revivals must walk. Thankfully, the director is up to the task. DaCosta’s film explores the power of storytelling as a way to process and inform generational trauma, a vector that allows her to bring audiences up to speed on the original story in a natural way before telling its own tale.

That’s done through shadow puppetry, a motif that occurs multiple times in the film and calls back to the idea of myths and scary stories told over the campfire. It’s an inspired decision that gives the film another element to the rest its visual flair, which DaCosta establishes from the disorienting opening shots. Candyman is holding a mirror up in many ways, not only to the original film but to society and to its characters.

It almost goes without saying that the cycles of violence and cruelty has been on a lot of minds over the last several years. It’s a theme explored not only through Anthony and his art, but through the storytelling conceit of the film. DaCosta, Peele, and their co-writer Win Rosenfeld recontextualize the story for a new audience, re-examining the gentrification themes of the original in some compelling and fascinating ways.

It’s clear that DaCosta has a deep understanding and appreciation of the original, as she quite deftly pulls the plot elements and themes from that film into her tale. Like Helen Lyle, Anthony is someone who has spent his life outside of the projects and seeks to commodify the pain of the community. And like Helen, that quest sends Anthony down a road full of truth he’s not prepared to confront. This story path allows the writing trio to shine a light on a conversation taking place about the commercialization of racial trauma for entertainment, a theme that the film makes explicit in a bloody scene involving a gallery owner and his assistant.

Candyman doesn’t just interrogate the original film’s themes on an artistic level; it also wades waist-deep into the idea of what those cycles of trauma will do to a people and a community. DaCosta recontextualizes some of the more jarring aspects of the ghostly Daniel Robitaille’s murders in the original, suggesting he was locked into unleashing the brutality that was visited upon him against others without rhyme or reason (many of his victims didn’t even summon him). Part of the goal of this film seems to be giving the Candyman a new agency and breaking those cycles of self-inflicted wounds.

And that’s where we get to the inescapable flaw of this film, which for all its strengths does fall apart a little in the final act. Perhaps as a byproduct of serving too many themes, there is simply not enough legwork done to sell some of the third act twists here. On a thematic level everything makes sense, and it’s clear where the movie is going. But the film is too busy in its juggling act to lay the proper groundwork, so it’s hard to buy the story beats. And those cracks in the foundation undermine the strength of its final thesis just a bit.

Fortunately, there’s more than enough up to that point that it’s not a dealbreaker. That’s thanks in part to the cast, who are all delivering. Abdul-Mateen has an exceedingly difficult role to play, as Anthony is often in a bit of a daze which means his performance comes off muted at times. But he very much sells the journey that Anthony takes, and his formidable presence doesn’t hurt. Teyonah Parris, fresh off her role in WandaVision, carries much of the film’s emotional core as Brianna. She’s good enough that even a half-cooked character beat regarding a family tragedy doesn’t trip her up one bit. And Colman Domingo brings a wonderful nervous weariness to the role of William Burke, a man in Cabrini-Green with answers who Anthony comes across in his search for inspiration.

As the director, DaCosta brings a considerable eye for the visual language of horror. She stages kills in shocking and often visually stunning ways. A particular crane shot makes for one of my single favorite filmic images of 2021 to date, and DaCosta’s use of mirrors and reflections creates evocative, often chilling moments. And if unnerving, creepy moments don’t do it for you, there’s also plenty of body horror that will make you very nervous the next time you see a bee getting too close to you. It’s the squicky cherry on top of an imperfect but potent horror film.

Film Rating: 8.0

The Video/Audio

One of Candyman’s strengths is its visual and audio aesthetics, and fortunately Universal has put forth the effort to make it shine on the small screen. The picture is nearly flawless throughout, and the video transfer keeps the striking color palette looking just as DaCosta intended, whether the haunting beauty of the opening title credits or the grotesquery of the body horror. Contrast is good throughout and blacks are deep without ever being marred by digital artifacts.

The audio is similarly fantastic, presented in an immersive Dolby Atmos track that effectively brings you into the movie. The spacing on the audio is particularly strong across speakers, with the effects work crackling and thundering at the right moments. Dialogue is leveled quite well with the music and ambient sounds for one of the better overall audio mixes I’ve heard in a while.

Video/Audio Rating: 9.0

Special Features

* Alternate Ending (2:37): First on the special features list is an alternate ending, which will likely be of interest to fans. This ending is a coda for Brianna that provides us with a tiny bit of closure for her character but doesn’t offer that much more. It’s worth checking out, but the ending as seen in the film is the stronger one.

* Deleted and Extended Scenes (2:53): There are just two deleted scenes here. The first gives us a little more time with the high school girls briefly seen in the film that takes place just before their big scene, and the second is a more explicit version of Brianna’s flashback scene with her father. Both are fine but neither really add anything to the film, leaving them better off on the cutting room floor.

* Say My Name (6:44): The rest of the extra features are behind-the-scenes featurettes, starting with this “making of” piece. The short features DaCosta, Tony Todd, and Jordan Peele, more of the cast and crew talking the franchise’s themes and legacy, and how the film delves into the story of racial horror. These shorter pieces aren’t often able to explore much new ground, but this one impressively manages to touch on what’s going on in the film and how it reflects society in a pretty short time period. A deeper exploration would be nice, but we get what we get.

* Body Horror (6:22): Body horror is an essential part of the Candyman franchise, and this piece looks at how the film uses it to tell its story. Starting off with Peele and DaCosta, the featurette has them talk the original film’s impact on them and DaCosta’s body horror influences. We get some behind-the-scenes footage of Abdul-Mateen in makeup, and the actor and others talking about the process behind some of the work. We also get makeup effects artists discussing some of the other horror moments, the film’s decision to rely on practical effects, and the decisions behind most of the kills.

* The Filmmaker’s Eye: Nia DaCosta (4:47): As the title suggests, this featurette looks at director Nia DaCosta’s history with the Candyman franchise and what drew her to the film. We get some interview bits from Peele, Rosenfeld and DaCosta herself talking about what she brought to the film. It’s a short but well put-together piece.

* Painting Chaos (7:17): This slightly longer piece examines the art that appears in the film with interviews with Abdul-Mateen, DaCosta, producer Ian Cooper, and Cameron Spratley, who was commissioned to do some of the pieces. We also get discussion of some of the other pieces in the exhibition scene, with Cooper talking about how he and DaCosta met with Black artists, putting their pieces in that scene and trying to make it authentic to the Chicago art scene. Sherwin Ovid, who did Anthony’s later pieces, also talks about his work and what it means within the context of the movie.

* The Art of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (4:53): This piece looks at the work of composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe on the movie, with the man himself talking about growing up as a Clive Barker fan, being a Candyman fan and growing up in Chicago. He talks about drawing inspiration from Phillip Glass’ score for the original. We get some interesting footage of Lowe at work, which he does in an unconventional way, and his bringing in Hildur Guwanadottir for the score. It’s a nice enough piece with some good insight that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

* Terror in the Shadows (4:08): One of this film’s key visual marks is the shadow puppetry sequences, and this short examines them. DaCosta talks about how the sequences evolved and how Peele’s background in puppetry factored in. This is the short that feels like it could have been longer because it skims the surface and the information is good, but it doesn’t get to really jump fully into the details.

* Candyman: The Impact of Black Horror (20:23): This is obviously the biggest feature, with Colman Domingo hosting a conversation with a roundtable of Black academics and mental health experts about the film and its themes. This is a fantastic discussion about the history of the franchise and recontextualizing the lore through a new lens in DaCosta. There’s also some discussion about the rise of Black horror and the conversation about navigating the balance between relevant horror commentary and how to visit that trauma on screen, along with some conversations of specific scenes. I know it may not be likely, but I would love to see this expanded to a full documentary.

Special Features Rating: 7.0

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Nia DaCosta's Candyman may stumble a bit as it crosses the finish line, but on the whole it is still a timely, thought-provoking and well-made horror film with strong acting and several standout sequences. The home video release features strong work by Universal in terms of delivering the best visual and audio experience, and while the special features are a bit less than you might hope they're put together. This is a strong recommendation that stays true to the original franchise's themes while delivering a lot of strength on its own merits.

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Candyman, Jeremy Thomas