Nia DeCosta’s Candyman

Urban legends have a way of living on decades after the actual events that inspired them, like ghosts of the past doomed to linger as long as the collective human consciousness remembers what happened, and spreads it by word of mouth. The original 1992 Candyman film is a minted horror classic that has only gotten better with age and still holds up in every respect to this day, a terrifying supernatural parable that covers classism, racism, the power of myth and the passing on of stories in a ritualistic fashion. So how does Nia DeCosta’s Candyman, a ‘spiritual’ sequel and decades later follow up compare to its inspiration? Well naturally it’s not quite as good, but it was never going to be, and it was also never going to be the exact same thing because the world has changed and along with it so has the grim Chicago project housing neighbourhood of Cabrini Green, once a derelict death trap and now a hilariously partially gentrified (we see a rundown laundromat sitting snug right next to an artisanal ‘roastery’) overrun with art world types, the horrors that befell it over twenty years ago now almost forgotten. Not quite though, as we see struggling artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) catch wind of the Candyman events, now little more than a campfire story, and decide to investigate further in order to gain inspiration during an artistic dry spell where his successful girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) is supporting him financially. Naturally the more he learns the more his life unravels and pretty soon people are saying those magic words five times into mirrors and being viciously murdered by Candyman, albeit a different incarnation than Tony Todd’s iconic and darkly tragic Daniel Robitaille. He’s called Sherman Fields this time (played excellently by Michael Hargrove) and I gotta hand it to the guy, he’s pretty damn scary, in less baroque, theatrical fashion than Todd and instead a more animalistic, unstable way. The idea here is that Robitaille pioneered the dark necromancy that keeps the Candyman legend alive but there are also others, each with an appropriately unfortunate backstory, who fill the position. It’s a neat expansion into the mythos even if Todd himself gets sadly little to do here. The callbacks to the first are integrated well enough into this version of today so that it feels psychically linked to it without having outright sequel syndrome, which I suppose is what they mean by ‘spiritual sequel.’ Nia Decosta is a filmmaker to watch out for, she meticulously blocks actors and stages the killing scenes in ingeniously innovative ways using space, movement and reflection for some truly trippy and original sequences invoking settings like mirrored elevators, high rise apartments, high school washrooms and cavernous holes in dilapidated drywall. There’s also some beautiful shadow puppetry that fills in for flashbacks instead of ripping actual footage right from the 1992 version, which adds an elemental flourish and a terrific musical score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Love that echoes Phillip Glass’s achingly gorgeous original composition without aping it. There’s even some startlingly gruesome body horror thrown in that breaks new prosthetic ground and is… quite something to look at, or look away from depending on your tolerance. It ain’t the 1992 version and let’s face it, nothing will be. But it’s hell of a good horror film and a damn fine shoutout to a classic that’s in its own time capsule now, it illustrates how myth, legend and superstition live on no matter who forgets, dark forces like that have a way of finding their way home to the hallowed grounds where they were birthed, and this incarnation of Candyman is every bit as chilling and atmospheric as the first, albeit in different, fresh ways.

-Nate Hill

HBO’s Watchmen

Given Alan Moore’s corrosive reaction to any adaptation of his work so far I admire the big brass balls of anyone who attempts to go near it these, much less craft a new story based on his existing volumes. So that said, HBO and Damon Lindelof should be given the slow clap for attempting such a thing and not only that but making something just as sprawling, provocative and prescient as the source material. I have a deep love for Moore’s original graphic novel, I’m a huge fan of Zachary Snyder’s epic big screen version and I can now happily say that I am also over the moon about and mostly appreciate what they’ve done here.

I can’t say much about the story without spoiling both this and the book for anyone who isn’t up to date but anyways: The year is 2019, over two decades since ex superhero Ozymandias changed the course of history with a certain gooey incident in NYC (this follows the book, whereas Snyder did his own thing in the third act, which was also welcome). The setting is rural Oklahoma where masked police officers team up with costumed antiheroes to tackle a white supremacist hate group who have hijacked deceased Rorschach’s extremist views for their own nasty agenda, complete with wearing his mask. If you remember Rorschach you’ll recall that although his intentions steered towards the righteous now and again, for the most part he was a hateful, maladjusted prick and I wouldn’t put it past that elusive diary of his to spark this kind of cancer across the land years later. Anywho, police officer Angela Abar (Regina King) moonlights as a badass called Sister Night and along with her captain (Don Johnson), human lie detector Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson, finally gifted a role that exercises his talents beyond ‘dim-bulb hayseed’) and more, try to get to the bottom of what’s up. This proves tricky especially when former Silk Spectre Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) blows into town hunting vigilantes and a shadowy conspiracy begins to emerge involving everyone’s past. Lindelof & Co. carefully pick their cast and as such we get amazing work from the likes of Hong Chau, Tom Mison, Sarah Vickers, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Louis Gossett Jr, Glenn Fleshler and scene stealing Jeremy Irons as a haggard, very eccentric older Ozymandias.

I really can’t comment much more on story without ruining the surprises here, of which there are many. This is a byzantine tale, one that at first seems to have little to do with the original story until slowly, carefully and cleverly the layers peel back and the “Aha!” moments begin to roll in. My favourite performance of the whole piece is Jean Smart as the brittle, jaded and supremely badass Laurie, I noted with interest that she took her father Edward ‘The Comedian’ Blake’s last name despite everything that happened to her and her mom, and its these little touches that augment what we remember and add such rich depth to the mythology. Where is Dr. Manhattan in of this? There are blue phone-booths all over the world that one can go into and supposedly get a direct one way line to Mars where he just might be listening. Thousands of tiny, bizarre squid aliens periodically rain from the sky serving as reminder of the great unknown that made itself known in NYC. Watching this I felt immersed, I believed that this is the way the world could very well have ended up after what happened all those years ago. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross outdo themselves with a menacing, sonic original score that surges the action along and spins up the same kind of paranoia one feels reading the source material. Aside from a few issues with character development and the deliberate one note portrayal of some of the antagonists, this is worthy of the Watchmen name and then some.

-Nate Hill