Candyman review: "A sequel/reboot hybrid that never entirely hooks you"

Candyman (2020)
(Image: © Universal)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Sharp social commentary and slick genre trappings make for thought-provoking entertainment, even if it never entirely hooks you.

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In the tradition of the 2018 revival of Halloween, Candyman (2021) is that unusual sequel/reboot hybrid: a direct follow-up to an original that discards the continuity of the (barely remembered) existing sequels, while confusingly retaining the exact same title of the beloved original. 

While this version is no doubt hoping to attract a new generation who are less familiar with Bernard Rose’s seminal 1992 film than the urban legend that it spawned - whispering the name “Candyman” into a mirror five times became a sleepover staple - it is still technically a sequel. 

We pick up the story in real time, when the spectre of the hook-handed killer has been largely forgotten, and the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago has been consumed by an ever-growing expanse of luxury apartments. It’s here we meet the main characters – Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an artist who has hit a creative brick wall, and his partner Brianna (Teyonah Parris), a museum curator on the rise. When Anthony is introduced to the Candyman lore, his artwork gets a new creative hook, but the mythos quickly consumes him.

Director Nia DaCosta – whose only feature to date is lo-fi indie drama Little Woods with Tessa Thompson and Lily James, but who has since been tapped for Captain Marvel sequel The Marvels – co-writes with Jordan Peele, who also produces. As in Peele’s Get Out and Us, Candyman foregrounds the Black experience in the US, inextricably entwining gentrification, police brutality, and the appropriation/commodification of Black art with the story’s fantastical horrors. It’s an extremely fitting vehicle to explore such themes, given the plight of Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) in the first film. 

Anyone unfamiliar with the original gets a primer when the legend is recreated via unsettling shadow-puppetry (one of several impressive visual flourishes), although a recent rewatch of the OG Candyman is beneficial. DaCosta and Peele’s contemporary take feels exceptionally timely, but often has more to offer in the way of ideas and atmosphere than a satisfying plot or lasting scares.  

DaCosta sustains a tone of considerable dread from the outset, and stages some extremely inventive kills when the boogeyman returns to stalk from inside the mirror. Some icky body horror – homaging Cronenberg’s The Fly – adds to the feeling of gut-churn, but, like the way the film expands the existing mythology, it doesn’t quite make sense, narratively.  

That’s the main problem with this new version of Candyman – when the internal logic’s questionable, it’s hard to feel truly invested (and, by extension, genuinely scared). Despite the tension, and the solid performances from Abdul-Mateen (who continues his charismatic ascent to the A-list) and Parris (set to reteam with DaCosta for The Marvels), it feels unlikely to linger as long in the memory – or inspire as many of those mirror-based sleepover challenges – as the original.

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Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.