They’ve taken the fun out of Candyman. The tall black revenant with a hook for a hand, who had been victimized by slave-era savagery then turned his monstrous bloodlust upon future generations in the 1992 slasher/art film by British director Bernard Rose, now reemerges in a remake that’s billed as a “spiritual sequel.” That means Candyman’s myth — say his name five times while looking in the mirror and he will appear, seeking revenge — is further exaggerated, fantasizing another historical offense to fire up race consciousness.
As directed by Nia DaCosta from a script co-authored by Jordan (Get Out) Peele, Candyman spreads the pall of urban misery unlike the original film’s Nineties liberal consciousness where the scare tactics actually coped with racial memory and made it a cult favorite. Here, the story is based in more skittish black bourgeois art-world elitism. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the black hipster protagonist, moves into Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects, now a series of gentrified row houses but a site forever haunted by America’s racist past, represented by the monstrous Candyman (Tony Todd reprising his original boogeyman role).
Anthony’s paper cut-out artwork proclaims his hypersensitivity in the style of celebrated race-baiter Kara Walker. Anthony’s depictions of police violence indicate fashionable awareness. (His neighbor Colman Domingo tells him “The police come around; that’s when I saw the true face of fear.”) Hip black artists seem to have no inner lives; caught up in superficial activism, today’s black artistes resign themselves to self-exploitation as a way of seeking reparations, fame, and acclaim. This “art” subtext vies with the film’s tabloid sensationalism, promoting black victimization itself as a form of art. (Suggesting that up-to-date attitudes about racial politics might be self-destructive is DaCosta’s only insight.)
Abdul-Mateen personifies the perfect cluelessness of BLM Millennials — he’s primarily a victim of fake news and the 1619 Project. His “collective memory” is shallow, indifferent to the varied disgraces of public housing and ignorant of historical specifics, such as Chicago mayor Jane Byrne being ridiculed for deliberately choosing residence in Cabrini-Green in 1981 as a way to pinpoint and improve its problems.
But Peele and DaCosta’s alternative is to blaspheme old-time civil-rights-era gospel when Anthony is warned about the Candyman myth — “He has a purpose for you.” The godless paranoia that separates social justice from morality and spirituality can be seen in this film’s showy, demonic set-pieces: each one stylized like a gruesome Steve McQueen gallery installation. Anthony internalizes Candyman’s curse, eventually taking on the revenant’s lingering wound and characteristic aura of swarming bees, harbingers of vengeance. It’s intended to give serious weight to generic horror, yet the woke remakers actually ignore the political/racial reality that stigmatizes Chicago. The specter of Candyman, and all the blame he brings about the racist past, looms over DaCosta’s Chicago as if Barack Obama, conman Jussie Smollett, and ghoulish Lori Lightfoot never existed to wreak their own forms of strife and confusion.
The original Candyman followed the horror genre’s psychological “return of the repressed” tradition — where history, suffering, and revulsion resurface in contemporary life. Bernard Rose was sophisticated enough to not ignore black advancement but look deeper. He was of the Ken Russell school where shock was used to provoke thought — even shame — not just white guilt or black self-pity. (Rose’s low-brow enlightenment included the use of a high-brow Philip Glass music score.) It’s offensive that these remakers (and adulatory reviewers) use tragic race history to promote their opportunistic, self-righteous political conceits. And, oh yes, to make blood money. DaCosta spills blood without respect for its cost; she’s from Peele’s cheap thrills-for-virtue-signalers school.
This unfunny version of Candyman continues Hollywood’s woke methods of manipulating race — like the political vaudeville acts surrounding Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Brianna Taylor, and George Floyd that became part of mainstream media’s shameless power plays. DaCosta and Peele take what Malcolm X called “the hate that hate produced,” then trivialize that tragedy. Presenting Black Lives Matter as a Halloween movie is a trap we’ll never get out of.