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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Nia DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ Reimagines the Mythology With a Sequel-Reboot Hybrid [Revenge of the Remakes]

Welcome to Revenge of the Remakes, where columnist Matt Donato takes us on a journey through the world of horror remakes. We all complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality whenever studios announce new remakes, reboots, and reimaginings, but the reality? Far more positive examples of refurbished classics and updated legacies exist than you’re willing to remember (or admit). The good, the bad, the unnecessary – Matt’s recounting them all.

**Since Nia DaCosta’s Candyman was released only last weekend, we’re plastering a big, bold spoiler warning here because you better believe you’re going to get spoiled as early as the introduction below. You have been warned.**

If you contributed to the $22 million box office haul over Candyman’s premiere weekend, you’re probably wondering why Nia DaCosta’s rebootquel is getting the “Revenge of the Remakes” treatment. My answer? I wanted to use this remake in disguise as a case study about embracing originals, ushering classics into modern eras, and filmmakers who upend cemented franchises with a smile. Everything about 2021’s Candyman in early marketing glimpses pointed towards an alternate take on Chicago’s honey-slathered urban legend—then DaCosta busts the door down with a concept that’s more than indebted to Bernard Rose’s blueprint.

DaCosta’s greatest strength is honoring those depths from whence Candyman is born without feeling shackled to remake expectations. The screenplay collaboration between ​​DaCosta, Jordan Peele, and Win Rosenfeld celebrates Tony Todd becoming the first Black slasher in Candyman while simultaneously reacting to its very white perspective. Written by a white male, directed by a white male, and starring Virginia Madsen as the white savior lead while Black characters are murdered via Daniel Robitaille’s pursuit. DaCosta holds Candyman accountable but isn’t here to erase its existence—if anything, she’s hellbent on reclaiming the Candyman narrative while spotlighting the sins of its past.


The Approach

At the core of Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is still the Cabrini-Green housing project site, now demolished and redone as swanky apartment complexes. Bernard Rose’s film interacts with gentrification and visual ghetto explorations while DaCosta plays more into Chicago’s hoitier-toitier art scene, which some critics note as a detriment. In Robert Daniel’s Candyman review, the Illinois journalist writes, “Barring a brief shot of Chicago’s glittering downtown skyline, which backgrounds the row houses, DaCosta’s film doesn’t work to convey that economic disparity, and why the city desperately wants to gentrify the former projects to make room for more luxury housing.” DaCosta’s continuation of Candyman mythos narrows its focus on Daniel Robitaille’s merciless 1800s murder as the “beginning” for generations of Black pain inflicted by white mobs—be they racist townsfolk or uniformed officers—but as Daniels notes, spends less time surrounded by the dilapidation of Cabrini-Green.

Rose’s Candyman can be framed as an outsider’s lament of Black trauma. DaCosta flips perspective by focusing on Black characters through visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his partner Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), who books gallery exhibits. Anthony is experiencing a creative drought but becomes inspired by the sordid history of Cabrini-Green as a “haunted” territory. Tainted soil, stained by innocent Black blood that Anthony thinks appropriate to feature in his newest painting collection. The curious part is, Candyman isn’t even the impetus for Anthony’s investigation—it’s the legend of baby kidnapper and dog mutilator Helen Lyle who died in a Cabrini-Green bonfire. 

The twisting of perspective that is Helen Lyle’s whispered legacy highlights the most significant swing of this newest Candyman. Robitaille feeds off victims spreading his name like a virus, and yet Lyle’s journey has now been morphed into an overshadowing horror story tied to Cabrini-Green. It’s the weaponization of perspective that’s so important to DaCosta’s message—Rose’s Candyman is viewed through a lens that no longer makes Helen a hero (reluctant hesitation behind that label). Even better, we’ve already been introduced to a 1970s flashback of ​​Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove) that presents a smiling man with a metallic hook hand who gifts candy and is wrongfully murdered—Tony Todd’s presence is undersold every step of the way because DaCosta expands into a story about the horrors of cyclical prejudice. Daniel Robitaille is the first of many.


Does It Work?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy in Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta.

There have been discussions over the success of Nia DaCosta and company’s narrative ambitions to rewrite Candyman as something grander, with deeper woven roots in urban nightmares bred from reality. Critiques argue there’s too much reliance on reliving the events of Bernard Rose’s Candyman as if those viewing 2021’s installment enter after being Neuralyzed, so no memory of severed hands, buzzing bees, or sweets to the sweet exists. Paper puppetry by Kara Walker ties into the artistic appropriation of Black trauma in Anthony’s obsession as DaCosta delivers flashback exposition through unconventional (and rather enthralling) means. There’s no doubt a hefty chunk of the ninety-minute duration is spent latched onto the past, but I contend it’s all with purpose.

The reason I’m challenging this column’s intention is to showcase how Candyman could have been just another studio remake—but there’s so much more resonance and conceptual density to an original, ancestral forward leap. I don’t want to live in the world where DaCosta is herded towards shot-for-shot rehashes because that’s how you get something soulless like 2010’s A Nightmare On Elm Street. Candyman is a bit defiant in that regard. Colman Domingo’s laundromat owner keeps the ties to Cabrini-Green alive and thriving, especially considering how Sherman Fields experiences similar white brutality and the same wrongful execution that befalls Daniel Robitaille. DaCosta commits herself to engage with Candyman within the confines of remake reconstruction, if only as a ruse before the “Candyman Army” reflects countless victims who suffered just like Daniel, just like Sherman—and through the exposure of rampant police corruption—just like future sacrificial lambs like Anthony McCoy.

Where Rose’s Candyman is about villainous beginnings, DaCosta’s driving force behind Candyman evolves into commentary about the stories we tell and how they’re told (by whom). When white voices spew the anecdotes, Candyman is this specter who guts victims in an underdeveloped community because the area is nothing but a stain that can’t be scrubbed. Through DaCosta and Peele’s influence, the despicable violence committed by Candyman isn’t spread through fear—there’s a reason Helen Lyle’s story sounds so unfamiliar, and that’s not because DaCosta intends to retcon. This year’s Candyman never begrudges or chastises its elder, which allows both films to sing their joint chorus in unison—but DaCosta logics a way to comment on the voices behind representation being just as important as the representation we see. Both Candyman films aim at the same broader target but couldn’t be more divided in their methods. DaCosta herself admits as much in her Guardian interview, where she offers, “I think Candyman is important…Not necessarily my movie, but the concept of a sort of mythological figure that you can transpose a lot of stories on through horror, which is an easier genre through which to passively accept some hard truths.”


The Result

Teyonah Parris as Brianna Cartwright in Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta.

I’m thrilled that Universal allowed Monkeypaw and Nia DaCosta to channel the last few decades of supremacy injustice to further incite the painful, vengeful Candyman folklore. What DaCosta’s able to say about the neverending addition of wrongfully slain Black men to Candyman ranks couldn’t be achieved by a more structured remake, even if she were to introduce the idea of multiple Candyman entities (Candymen?) as an extra hook. The reemergence of Tony Todd when crooked Chicago cops gun Anthony McCoy and use intimidation tactics on Brianna is so much more impactful because it’s still Tony Todd as Daniel Robitaille. The Helen Lyle narrative has taken hold for long enough—it’s time for people to remember the true horrors associated with Candyman, buried beneath Cabrini-Green, and why the curse still pulsates under the poverty-induced scars of locals.

None of this is meant as a knock on Bernard Rose’s Candyman either. My umpteenth rewatch of 1992’s namesake once again delivered racial storytelling that is the most humanity-based horror can become. You’re never playing Candyman better than Tony Todd, especially given the cultural significance of his entry into the halls of horror history. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II blends both Helen Lyle and Daniel Robitaille into a paranoid yet possessed Anthony McCoy whose showpiece installation calls back to colorful Cabrini-Green graffiti tagging that Rose uses as vibrant set decorations juxtaposed against the whitewashed, remodeled walls of Helen’s apartment. My read on the lack of Cabrini-Green shooting locations compared to Rose’s constant architectural comparisons between two Chicagos is that, well, we’ve already played that card in the original—it’s now decades later. Chicago has morphed, but DaCosta’s narrative works to methodically unearth the bones paved over by classist parties erasing what they fear.

Anticipate only one or two scenes before DaCosta’s insistence that Candyman will not be a remake. I understand the immediate urge to stack DaCosta’s summoning against Rose’s original, but that’s never her film’s intention. Whether audiences believe DaCosta succeeds in creating an assertively gore-heavy splatterpiece in short bursts that mines overall themes of broken systems and unceasing racial oppression is one thing—but in fairness? I don’t believe Candyman should be assessed against remake instincts. DaCosta acknowledges the original so frequently because there will be hordes of new Candyman fans viewing this one as their first—it’s a byproduct of almost thirty years between releases. I understand the backlash of feeling like you’re being talked down to about a franchise you might adore, but the mainstream horror market reaches far wider than our Twitter bubbles. As a result, DaCosta proves how exposition can be expressively imaginative, how expectations can be exceeded by thinking outside the box, and—wait for this one—that remakes aren’t always the answer when it comes to resurrecting “dead” franchises. Candyman savors its sweets and eats ‘em, too.


The Lesson

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy in Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta.

The idea behind a remake is to refamiliarize newer audiences with a proven intellectual property that’s recognizable by title. In the slasher genresphere, that means a character like Jason Voorhees gets dusted off after ten or so years to hack hormonal partiers apart and kickstart the production line towards ten sequels all over—but Candyman defies that tempting “redo” mechanic. In the same way Don Mancini continues to develop Chucky’s abilities and never looks backward throughout the Child’s Play universe, Candyman proves that remakes certainly have their place but aren’t always the correct course of action. If I’m comparing you to my all-time favorite slasher franchise, you’ve earned praise.

So what did we learn?

  • Remakes aren’t always the answer.
  • I’d rather watch a filmmaker build upon legacies than attempt to regurgitate something that resembles nostalgia slop.
  • The hybrid between reboot and sequel still generates the effects of remakes.
  • When in doubt, mirrors.
  • Just because two separate movies marquee duplicate titles doesn’t mean one has to be a remake.

I already know the comments will fill with those who read a headline and leap at the chance to mock a perceivably ignorant read on Nia DaCosta’s Candyman. It’s fine. I’m a writer on the internet; such warfare comes with the territory. There was just such an interesting conversation in my head brewing since seeing Candyman, which I thought to be an observant diversion that still comments on remake culture. Don’t expect another “Revenge Of The Remakes” curveball until next year, if ever, so rest easy knowing we’ll be back to regular oldies versus newbies programming before you can even say “Candyman” once into a mirror, let alone five times. Sometimes we have to indulge those chattery voices in our heads so they’ll vanish—this article is my catharsis.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3681243/nia-dacostas-candyman-reimagines-mythology-sequel-reboot-hybrid-revenge-remakes/

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