Can you say it again? Can you say it again? / Can you look into the mirror and then say it again? / Can you say it again? Can you say it again? / Can you say the name? Say the name, say it.clipping. “Say The Name”
29 years ago a grimy, graffiti-coated building in the Chicago projects was terrorized by the haunting visage of a bloody specter, an urban legend brought to life by hushed voices and systemic trauma. A burning response to deeply entrenched racism and harmful arrogance, come to violently vivisect and spill buckets of blood upon the streets, further cementing an echoing mythological status that would continue to instill fear for generations to come. As distinct in presence as he was as an idea, he stood towering over his victims, enshrouded in majestic robes, the glint of his gnarled metal hook shining from his wrist. An icy, smooth voice emanated, gently murmuring to his sacrifices utterances of suffering, offering haunting eulogies as he ushered them into another life. After leaving a long series of bodies in his bloody wake, within the bowels of a raging flame he and his mystical presence seemed to burn to ash, a final resting place for a once eternally powerful name.
Today, his myth has been appropriated, transformed from a horrific tale of generational hatred into a campfire story about a psychotic middle class white woman, whose presence doesn’t instill an ounce of fear in the minds of the community it circles. He has become an obfuscated icon behind an embellished version of reality that’s all but erased his presence. But he lives on. There’s still a whisper that keeps him alive, a pained beckoning from beneath the flattened rubble of his former home. Today, the world has little room for him. There’s little time for communities to form and unite against a dark symbol of their oppression, as these once lush sources for legends to form and build are bulldozed, razed and scrubbed clean to make way for luxury. But the glossy shine of gentrification cannot erase the past.
The past is where Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) resides, an artist determined to tell affecting tales of generations of racial injustice through stark brushstrokes and vibrant canvas. Beneath the obliterated brick of the long past Cabrini-Green he rediscovers the true myth. The Candyman. Through seductive fascination and spiraling mania the myth begins to spread again, bringing about the sharp glint of a blood-soaked hook. With sharp modern intonations and a shiny polish, Nia DaCosta’s reimagining of the cult legend offers a new angle on the story, creating a distant but direct continuity from the original film. Grabbing the powerful and violent themes of Bernard Rose’s horror staple, DaCosta and co-writer Jordan Peele attempt to spin them for a new audience, further inflecting ideas of police violence and the erasure of black neighborhoods.
As it slowly cranks its wheel of tension, these themes flow in beautiful tandem along with the narrative, seamlessly integrating ideas conversationally and instilling a genuine sense of pain and systemic suffering. As we’re introduced to a new generation of the Candyman mythology we’re given fresh perspective and fascinating new angles on the manifestation of his mythical status. The mythology has been altered, a new story taken root to form his bloody visage, appearing menacingly in the mirror as he splits the arrogant in two. This is where the film is at its strongest, recontextualizing its source material and strengthening its ideas for a core more resonant with a modern audience while sharpening blurred lines between myth and reality. Once a confronting instigator, he has become a violent reflection, spilling blood while you’re forced to stare deeply into the eyes of your own guilt.
Despite a modern gloss that abandons the dirty ’90s grit a little too hastily, DaCosta’s film is a visual treat, full of effective and arresting imagery. Vibrant images of Cronenberg inspired body horror, slowly decomposing set design that dissolves the luxurious clarity of modernity into a mess of paint and blood splattered canvases that begin to evoke sharp memories of the once graffiti coated walls of Cabrini-Green. Between such memorable imagery and sharp, incisive commentary that effectively builds on Rose’s foundation, the first hour of the film is a powerful rush that effectively brings the legend into a new era, but in its overwrought efforts to compact itself into a lean 90 minutes, it begins to crumble under its own ambition.
Though it spends ample time building on the lore and legend of the titular icon, it simultaneously fails to use him to the same great effect Bernard Rose once did, instead offering manic psychological fracturing at the hands of his haunting presence. The result is a mixed bag. At times the rotting spread of his existence is just as terrifying as his violent actions, but at others his mirror world apparitions and lack of booming vocalization leave a hollowness, a lack of weight that once provided so much strength to his character. Abdul-Mateen is an incredibly strong lead, and supporting performances from Teyonah Parris and Colman Domingo are excellent counterparts to his descent into madness, but an incredibly distinct lack of Tony Todd’s iconic presence and thundering monologues is a notable disappointment for a film that seemed to bank on marketing a return of his name.
As it breaks into the final act it begins to drill down extra hard on all of its themes, characters directly expositing their fears and the intended interpretation of them without allowing atmosphere and tone to do the heavy lifting. The deliberate, on the nose approach works to an extent, characters exhausted by society’s expectations espousing their frustration with the way of the world, but it reaches a breaking point and ensures to be as direct as possible, lest you fail to understand its intent. This overbearing tone is a limp endpoint that fails to truly live up to what it has spent so long building, and by the time the lights brighten the theater you’re left wondering what exactly it was all for.