[Screen It]


(2021) (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris) (R)

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Horror: A painter becomes obsessed in various ways with an urban legend where if a certain name is repeated five times while looking in a mirror, murder will be the result.

Anthony McCoy (YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II) is a Chicago-based painter who's dating gallery curator Brianna Cartwright (TEYONAH PARRIS) and is looking for inspiration for his latest project. He thinks he's found just that after hearing a scary story told by Brianna's brother, Troy (NATHAN STEWART-JARRETT), along with general talk of the gentrification of certain areas, such as the housing complexes of Cabrini Green.

Anthony travels to that mostly deserted neighborhood, where he meets Laundromat owner William Burke (COLMAN DOMINGO) who grew up there and witnessed cops murder Sherman Fields (MICHAEL HARGROVE), wrongly believing him to be responsible for putting razor blades into candy given to children.

Anthony also learns of the urban legend of the Candyman and that if you say his name five times while looking into a mirror, that supernatural figure will show up and kill you. And that's exactly what happens after hours at Brianna's gallery where two people end up murdered by the Candyman who's visible only in mirror and other glass reflections. As Anthony becomes obsessed with painting scenes of past violence toward black people of that area, the Candyman legend spreads and starts taking more victims.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

I don't recall this being the case when I was younger, but now that I'm nearing my sixties, I'm amazed how different I appear -- at least to myself -- when comparing a mirror reflection to a photo of me. In the latter, I seem to show every lap I've taken around the sun, while a number of those seem to disappear when I gaze into a mirror.

It could just be wishful thinking or a desire to be young (or younger) once again via mental projection, but scientific studies have shown that looking into a mirror can cause weird hallucinatory visual effects. Most notably was psychologist Giovanni Caputo who found that subjects ordered to stare at their mirror reflection in low light ended up seeing "huge deformations of one's own face (reported by 66% of individuals), a monstrous face (48%), an unknown person (28%), an archetypal face (28%), a face of a parent or relative (18%), and an animal face (18%)."

That would explain folklore of old where word was that if you looked into a mirror while holding a candle, you would summon supernatural entities such as Bloody Mary. The fact that you had to repeat her name obviously helped with the resultant hallucination, all of which helped turn that into an urban legend.

And to be used by Bernard Rose in the 1992 horror film "Candyman" where anyone who'd repeat that name five times while looking into a mirror would summon a hook-armed bogeyman with a taste for blood. I don't think I ever saw that film or its immediate sequels, but I've just seen the newly reimagined version of the story -- also called "Candyman" -- and can report the mirror bit returns and is alive, so to speak.

It also holds up past and present racial-based societal ills like a mirror for all to behold in this social commentary horror offering. With that in mind, it probably shouldn't surprise anyone that Jordan Peele is involved, what with having been the creative force behind the similarly themed horror offerings "Get Out" and "Us."

Here, he's co-written the screenplay with Win Rosenfeld and Nia DaCosta, but handed over the directing duties to DaCosta who delivers (with the help of cinematographer John Guleserian) a visually impressive and at times haunting offering. While the story ends up falling apart and resultantly feels jumbled and a bit of a let-down in the third act, this is nonetheless a decent sophomore outing for the director.

The tone is set from the get-go where the logos for Universal, MGM, and the production companies are shown in reverse followed by Sammy Davis' title song playing as we see unusual views from below looking up to Chicago skyscrapers disappearing in the fog.

That segues into a prologue from the past featuring a boy, William, who has a creepy run-in with a hook-armed figure (Michael Hargrove) who emerges from a hole in the wall of the laundry room beckoning him to come closer for some candy. The boy screams, the police rush that way, and the scene ends.

The story then moves to the present day where we meet art gallery curator Breanna (Teyonah Parris) and her painter boyfriend, Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). The latter is looking for inspiration for his next work and finds that in a scary tale (about what happened in the '92 film) told by her brother (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). That, coupled with the gentrification of poor black neighborhoods in Chicago, results in the painter heading to the fenced-in and mostly deserted housing projects of Cabrini Green.

There he meets the now grown-up William (Colman Domingo) who gives him more insight about racial injustices from the past (including as depicted on-screen by two-dimensional shadow puppets) Anthony then uses that for his latest project which includes a painting exhibit of past victims and a mirror with the instructions to look into it while repeating "Candyman" five times.

As in most horror films where sex can be punished by death, an adult couple decides to get randy in the now-empty art gallery and throw in a little potential kink by following those instructions. Needless to say, the climax is that of their lives as the boogeyman (visible only in mirrors and other glass reflections) shows up and does his grisly thing.

From that point on, and somewhat going down the Brundlefly path of slowly decomposing while still being alive, Anthony becomes obsessed with the racial injustices of the past, all while more bodies start piling up.

Aside from a few moments here and there, I didn't find the flick particularly scary or unsettling (and it pales considerably to the recent "The Invisible Man" remake when it comes to non-visible killers). And at times I felt like it didn't do as much tying in the racially motivated injustices as it could have, despite that being a fairly overt feature of this offering.

By the time things unravel in the third act, I wasn't that engaged anymore in the story or characters. But what impressed me was DaCosta's directorial flourishes and eye for unsettling visuals. If anything, it makes me look forward to her next offering (which just so happens to be the sequel to "Captain Marvel").

While it has its moments, "Candyman" isn't as unsettling or spooky as staring at oneself in the mirror in the dark and doesn't make everything as satisfying and delicious -- for a horror film -- as it could have, thus resulting in a 5.5 out of 10 score.

Reviewed August 24, 2021 / Posted August 27, 2021

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