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From Our Nightmares: Candyman (2021)

[The following essay contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

In Bernard Rose’s original Candyman, the eponymous hook-handed murderer is a purely memetic monster; he sustains himself on belief, gaining power by provoking fear and terror in the residents of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green. He is therefore not particularly discriminating when it comes to selecting his victims: anyone that performs his iconic summoning ritual is fair game. Whenever a skeptic dares to utter his name, the nightmare that he personifies becomes flesh; a new chapter of his story is written in blood—and through the perpetuation of that story, he achieves immortality.

The version of the character appearing in Nia DaCosta’s recent sequel/reboot is a different beast entirely. His urban legend is reimagined as a sort of collective coping mechanism—a response to the trauma caused by racial violence, police brutality, and injustice. Whenever an innocent, unarmed Black man is gunned down, beaten to death, or hanged, he is absorbed into “the hive”; his face, his identity, his soul become a part of Candyman’s narrative. He transcends. He is consumed.

Indeed, therein lies the film’s only true flaw: it tempts the viewer to interpret Candyman as a folk hero—a spirit of vengeance and righteous fury, butchering obnoxious white assholes on behalf of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. In theory, his resurrection should be tragic—after all, it occurs at the cost of our hapless protagonist’s life. In practice, however, his climactic slaughter of a group of corrupt, trigger-happy cops is way too cathartic; hearing Tony Todd’s rich, booming voice and seeing his digitally de-aged visage emerge from a swarm of bees is so damn satisfying that the audience barely has time to reflect on the deeper implication that they are, in fact, celebrating the villain’s decisive victory.

Nevertheless, the movie remains undeniably compelling. Like the Clive Barker tales that served as its inspiration, it strikes a fascinating balance between supernatural and mundane horrors. For what, ultimately, is more haunting: a brief, fleeting glimpse of a ghostly apparition in the mirror?

Or the potential for evil lurking in your next door neighbor’s heart?

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