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Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy in "Candyman" (2021). Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures.

REVIEW: ‘Candyman’ (2021) shows the horrors of gentrification


This review contains spoilers

If you asked any filmmaker working in Hollywood right now, regardless of talent or experience, if they would want to remake 1992’s “Candyman,” the general consensus would probably be a resounding, “No, the original was already so good; how could I even come close to approaching that?”

Enter director and co-writer Nia DaCosta, who boldly takes on the challenge of re-imagining one of the most iconic ‘90s horror films and overall one of the most iconic horror films of all time; DaCosta steps up to the plate with an immense respect for the genre and a whole load of creativity.

“Candyman” (2021) makes it abundantly clear from the opening credits sequence that this isn’t like anything you’ve seen before. DaCosta ingeniously toys with the viewer's own perspective, with the opening credits making the skyscrapers of Chicago appear as if they’re floating. Combined with Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s visceral and ethereal soundtrack, the sequence is quite the opening.

The film centers around Anthony McCoy (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend, Brianna Cartwright (played by Teyonah Parris). Anthony is a celebrated young artist, but is finding trouble garnering inspiration for his latest project. That is until Brianna’s brother Troy, played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, tells both Anthony and Brianna about the legend of Helen Lyle. 

Helen was a white woman who was studying local urban legends in the Cabrini-Green projects when she suddenly seemed to lose her mind. She began committing random acts of violence which ultimately culminated with her attempting to throw a baby into a fire.

Upon hearing Helen’s story, Anthony is struck with a sudden burst of inspiration brought upon by the Cabrini-Green projects. Abdul-Mateen does a brilliant job portraying Anthony’s obsession with Cabrini-Green and Candyman, with Parris astutely balancing out Abdul-Mateen’s manic downfall.

Upon further researching Cabrini-Green, Anthony encounters a laundromat owner by the name of William Burke, phenomenally portrayed by the grossly underappreciated Colman Domingo, who tells Anthony about the legend of Candyman. 

According to the story, a man by the name of Sherman Fields was putting razor blades into kids’ candy, specifically white kids’ candy, and was subsequently beaten to death by police. William tells Anthony that even after Sherman’s death, people were still finding razors in kids’ candy, proving Sherman’s innocence and spawning the legend of Candyman.

The screenplay, written by Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld and DaCosta, brilliantly interweaves multiple layers of backstory and lore surrounding the titular character that is not only reminiscent of classic urban legends, but is also startlingly urgent and relevant to today’s current events.

Anthony’s mental decline is mirrored through a physical decline as the skin on his hand, and eventually the whole right half of his body, begins to decay and peel off following a bee sting he got while exploring Cabrini-Green. Watching Anthony slowly pull the skin off of his hand is disgustingly engrossing, thanks to masterful makeup work and Abdul-Mateen’s painfully good acting.

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As the film progresses, Brianna begins to play a bigger role beyond just showing concern for Anthony’s well-being. The way her character plays into the finale of the film, and through DaCosta’s marvelous direction, Brianna seems to become the main character of the film, only furthering the subtle complexities of the film’s plot.

And even through all of the subtle story beats, the fantastic cinematography, great directing and superb acting, the film never forgets that it is, in fact, a horror film. The movie is truly terrifying with every on-screen kill being just as unforgettable as the one that came before.

What the film ultimately asks you to take with you as you leave the movie theater is how damaging gentrification can be for impoverished communities. From the opening scene to the closing credits, DaCosta is constantly reminding the audience about the inequities that brought us to this point in the first place. Every second of the film could have easily been prevented by a single action. DaCosta is visualizing generational trauma.

And clearly, audiences are here for it. The film opened to a hefty $22.3 million at its opening-weekend box office. Not only that, but Nia DaCosta is the first black woman to score the top spot at the weekend box office, according to an article from IndieWire.

Ultimately, “Candyman” (2021) is an excellently crafted, boldly directed and genuinely terrifying exploration of gentrification and its damaging effects. Not only that, but it will also serve to introduce a new generation of curious teenagers to their new spooky sleepover activity. Just get in a bathroom, turn off the lights and say his name.

John Scott is the photo editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @JScott050901

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