Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Nia DaCosta
scr Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, Nia DaCosta
prd Ian Cooper, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld
with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd, Kyle Kaminsky, Vanessa Williams, Rebecca Spence, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Brian King, Miriam Moss, Virginia Madsen
release US/UK 27.Aug.21
21/US Universal 1h31

parris stewart-jarrett domingo

Is it streaming?

Merging horror and politics, this eponymous sequel to the 1992 hit is enjoyably grisly and genuinely unsettling. Even if it's never actually scary, the film has a powerful thematic kick as weaves urgent racial issues into the premise. This isn't subtle, and the points are made repeatedly, but director Nia DaCosta's skilful approach both holds the interest and confronts the audience on a deeper level than the suspense.
In Chicago, rising-star artist Anthony (Abdul-Mateen) lives in a sleek loft with his gallery-curator girlfriend Brianna (Parris). In search of inspiration, he begins to dig into the past of his now-gentrified neighbourhood, exploring abandoned homes and a nasty account about kidnapping and murder, which sparked the folktale of Candyman, whose killing spree is reactivated by saying his name five times into a mirror. As Anthony begins to be pulled in, haunted local William (Domingo) explains how this is linked to the lynchings and unjust murders of black men over more than a century.
Filmmaker DaCosta takes a superbly visual approach, with terrific set design and often queasy camerawork, including several skilfully staged sequences involving reflections. A moment in a mirrored elevator is particularly unnerving. This provides a disorienting tone that echoes how Anthony is almost consumed literally by his interest in the mythology of Candyman, again played by the terrific Todd. But this is never about building suspense; DaCosta wants to freak us out while drawing a solid line to the real world.

Indeed, realism makes the character interaction bristle with life, as Anthony and Brianna interact with family (including the superb Stewart-Jarrett as her wide-eyed brother) and work colleagues. Abdul-Mateen gives Anthony a charismatic intensity that shifts from joyful to darkly menacing. And Parris also has a chance to dig deep as Brianna wrestles with her own demons. Side characters are all vivid, sharply underplayed to add a sense of authenticity even when things begin to slip into fantasy.

Outrageously gruesome violence is scattered through the film, usually involving Candyman's hook for a hand, although DaCosta maintains an inventive sense of perspective as these scenes play out. And at the centre of each act of violence, there's a remarkable mix of both emotion and righteous anger, the sense that there's no correct answer to the horrors that have been inflicted on people simply because of the colour of their skin. So even if this feels rather heavy-handed, it's something that needs to be said in a way that catches our attention.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 24.Aug.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall