Mirror, mirror on the wall ‘Candyman’

Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “Aquaman”) is a rising painter. He and his conservative girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris, “WandaVision,” “If Beale Street Could Talk”) live in a fabulous apartment in a gentrified neighborhood of Chicago. The area once included the towers of the Cabrini-Green social housing project. An urban legend has sprung up among locals about a murderous supernatural creature with a hook for a hand; and, yes, the hook was part of the murder. He was known as Candyman – hence the title “Candyman”.

Told of Candyman by Brianna’s brother (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Anthony is intrigued. He does archival research. He takes pictures of where Candyman supposedly wandered. He interviews William Burke (Colman Domingo, “My Rainey’s Black Bottom”). William runs a laundry. Forty years earlier, as a boy, he met the man reputed to be Candyman’s inspiration – a man whom the Chicago police murdered.

Teyonah Parris in “Candyman”. Parrish Lewis/Universal Pictures and MGM/Associated Press

An important part of the Candyman legend (or maybe it should be a “legend”?) is that if you look in a mirror and repeat his name five times – whisper it, sing it, shout it , it doesn’t matter: “Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman”, the result is the same – he will appear and murder you.

Anthony does a painting of Candyman. Well, no, that can’t be true. He makes a painting of the way he conceived Candyman is watching, since Candyman doesn’t really exist. The painting is part of an installation, placed in a medicine cabinet – you know, the kind with two mirrored doors. Read the text on the wall next to the artwork, look in the mirror, open the doors and there you have it. The wall text includes the company saying its name. Not that anyone would actually do that. . .

There is the setup.

This “Candyman” is both sequel and reboot. The first “Candyman” was released in 1992, with follow-ups in 1995 and 1999. Elements of the original are recognized throughout this one. Virginia Madsen, who played a major character in the original, provides the recorded voice of that character here. There’s a glimpse of Domingo (what a voice this man has!) reading a book in Burke’s laundromat. It’s by Clive Barker, who wrote the short story that inspired the movies.

Colman Domingo in “Candyman”. Parrish Lewis/Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures/Associated Press

There are missteps. The brother who tells the Candyman story really comes out of left field. The comic effect served by the brother’s homosexuality quickly ceases to be funny. Even more cartoonish is a self-important art critic (Rebecca Spence). If she was less likeable, you could give her a hook and have her audition for Mrs. Candyman.

These are exceptions, however, in a film that shows real imagination. The nicest touch comes from director Nia DaCosta. This is his second film, after his fine debut, “Little Woods” (2018). DaCosta narrates much of the backstory using shadow puppets. (They can be seen separately online in a short film.) Their black silhouettes, meanwhile, are reminiscent of the work of artist Kara Walker. Shadow puppet images are striking, stylish, and yes, a great way to minimize the gore. Let’s not forget, “Candyman” East a slasher movie. The last 15 minutes or so ensures no one loses sight of that fact (unless they cover their eyes, which might not be a bad idea).

High-pitched and skillfully produced, “Candyman” is also ostensibly political. One of its producers is Jordan Peele. More importantly, he is also one of the screenwriters, along with DaCosta and Win Rosenfeld. Peele is, of course, the writer-director of “Get Out” (2017) and “Us” (2019). No one weaves horror, imaginary and on screen, more intensely with horror, real and social. A supernatural guy with a hook for one hand is creepy, no doubt about it, and what he does is horrible. But he’s not as scary as a bunch of armed cops – and what they do can be even scarier.

Michael Hargrove in “Candyman”.Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures/Associated Press

★★½

CANDYMAN

Directed by Nia DaCosta. Written by Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld and DaCosta; Based on a short story by Clive Barker. With Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. In Boston Cinemas, Coolidge Corner, Suburbs. 91 minutes. A (you can imagine why – and if you can’t, then you’re not the kind of person who should even think about watching a movie like this).


Mark Feeney can be contacted at [email protected]