Jordan Peele’s Candyman shakes up the critics on opening day

Jordan Peele’s Candyman

The past year has been a chaotic one for movies as the Covid-19 pandemic has forced countless films to either move to VOD, release in a hybrid manner in theaters and VOD, or delay their release dates. Jordan Peele’s horror sequel Candyman was delayed several times until its eventual release on August 27, 2021 exclusively in theaters.

Oscar winner Jordan Peele unleashes a fresh take on the blood-chilling urban legend: Candyman. Filmmaker Nia DaCosta (Little Woods upcoming Captain Marvel 2) directs this contemporary incarnation of the cult classic.  

For as long as residents can remember, the housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood were terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand, easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror.


In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), move into a luxury loft condo in Cabrini, now gentrified beyond recognition and inhabited by upwardly mobile millennials.

With Anthony’s painting career on the brink of stalling, a chance encounter with a Cabrini-Green old-timer (Colman Domingo) exposes Anthony to the tragically horrific nature of the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world, Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, unknowingly opening a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.

ALSO READ: CANDYMAN: inside Chicago’s Cabrini-Green urban legend

Critics have already had the privilege of early viewing and the results are in! As of writing this, the film is 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes based on 127 reviews.

Here’s what critics are saying:

Joe Morgenstern from Wall Street Journal says, “Whether or not this new Candyman proves to be eternal — the film has its flaws, narrative jangles and loose ends –Ms. DaCosta and her colleagues have gone far beyond Chicago’s posh precincts in amplifying the meaning of their source material.”

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune declares, “In some striking flashback visualizations, the shadow puppetry of the Chicago-based troupe Manual Cinema fills the screen with images of violence all too relevant: police beatings, unruly mobs, miscarriages of justice. Many will find DaCosta’s take on the story didactic, I suppose, or low on genre payoffs. I’m eager to see it a second time, flaws and all. It’s alive and awake to where we are now.”

Richard Roeper from Chicago Sun-Times says, “This is a visually striking film, containing establishing shots of Chicago at its most beautiful, and interior scenes brimming with eye-catching artwork on the walls, and color-coordinated rooms and hallways in shades of blues and oranges and greens and stark whites. Even something as simple as Anthony navigating a curving hallway to visit the apartment of a noted art critic has a claustrophobic, vaguely nightmarish journey. There are a number of callbacks to the original film that add layers to the story, and constant reminders of how the Candyman legend is something that sprung up from decades of very real, racist violence — starting with the story of Tony Todd’s Daniel Robitaille, who in the 19th century was tortured and murdered by a mob after falling in love with and impregnating a white woman. The social commentary is not subtle, but it’s legitimate and justified. We end up looking in the mirror on a number of levels.”

Amon Warmann from Time Out contends, “Right from the first frame, DaCosta is always doing something interesting with the camera. There is smart visual storytelling almost everywhere you look, from the clever use of mirrors, to edgy scene transitions, to set design that starts to mirror Candyman’s look in interesting ways. The jump scares are rare but hardly needed: all this contributes to a growing feeling of dread as the film speeds towards its bold conclusion.”

Kambole Campbell of Empire Magazine says,”One of DaCosta’s finest touches is the intermittent shadow-plays recounting various urban myths, a nod to an oral tradition of storytelling that preserves the repeatedly decimated history of African Americans. While doing this, it reaches the existentially terrifying fatalism of its predecessor, in how it emphasises inevitable, continuing cycles of white supremacy and continuing inter-generational pain.”

Owen Gleiberman from Variety contends, “One reason this Candyman never feels like a formula slasher film, even during the murders, is that DaCosta stages them with a spurting operatic dread that evokes the grandiloquent sadism of mid-period De Palma. When four young women prepsters stand before the school bathroom mirror and say Candyman five times, it’s as if they’re acting out what they think is their privilege; their deaths come at us in a way that’s just oblique enough to get you to imagine the worst. And when a know-it-all art critic (Rebecca Spence) receives her own ghastly comeuppance, DaCosta shoots it from an elegant distance that heightens the horror.”

David Rooney from the Hollywood Reporter declares, “The attention to race, police brutality, community displacement and related issues doesn’t mean the thrills are any less spine-tingling or the bloodletting less ghastly. Moments of extreme gore induce squirms, but some of the most effective killings are those seen only in fleeting glimpses — in a makeup compact mirror on the floor of a girls’ high school restroom; in a wide shot of a massive apartment block as a life is being snuffed out by an invisible force in one tiny window. A considerable part of the first film’s power was the trance-like seduction of Philip Glass’ original score. Composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s textured music has its own atmospheric hold, mixing synth and strings with ambient drone and choral elements.”

Leila Latif from Little White Lies says, “Much has been debated about what the Black gaze versus the white gaze means and never has it been more clearly laid out than in this sequel, where white women inaccurately explain the Black community’s problems to them and DaCosta asks us to question who gets to be a monster and who gets to be a white (Black) knight riding in to save the day. While the film never seems to settle on Candyman’s agency and a few interpersonal relationships could have done with more than a single scene, this is still a searing and exceptional piece of work.”

Of course, you can’t please everyone and there are some naysayers:

Robert Daniels from Polygon wasn’t thrilled, stating, “DaCosta’s Candyman, a sequel clearly filmed by a director with only a cursory knowledge of Chicago, a lesser understanding of the ways legends haunt us, and an unevenness for looping frights in with social commentary, is bold in its ambition. DaCosta tries to pay tribute to a classic horror film while upping the ante of that film’s social conversations, but she follows in the same disappointing steps of Peele’s other produced projects. She doesn’t have the voice required to approach these issues with depth.”

Angelica Jade Bastién from New York Magazine/Vulture agrees, “The trailers and marketing held so much promise, the tagline “Say His Name” evoking history and communal fury. (We said “Say her name” about Breonna Taylor before her image appeared on glossy magazine covers, fuel for a capitalist system that betrayed her and her memory.) But as the art-gallery scene demonstrates, this Candyman misunderstands the allure of the original and has nothing meaningful to say about the contemporary ideas it observes with all the scrutiny of someone rushing through a Starbucks order on their way to work. Candyman is the most disappointing film of the year so far, listing not only the artistic failures of the individuals who ushered it to life, but the artistic failures of an entire industry that seeks to commodify Blackness to embolden its bottom line.”

Universal Pictures presents, from Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld’s Monkeypaw Productions, in association with BRON Creative, Candyman. Candyman is directed by DaCosta, and is produced by Ian Cooper (Us), Rosenfeld and Peele. The screenplay is by Peele & Rosenfeld and DaCosta. The film is based on the 1992 film Candyman, written by Bernard Rose, and the short story The Forbidden by Clive Barker. The film’s executive producers are David Kern, Aaron L. Gilbert and Jason Cloth.

Jordan Peele’s Candyman comes out August 27, 2021 exclusively in theaters.

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