Candyman

Candyman ★★½

Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up.
—Toni Morrison

This movie plays as if someone, somewhere, took the wrong lessons from Horror Noire.

That documentary did an elegant walk across a high beam, balancing multiple agendas, both asking "What would it take for Black people to fully inhabit the genre of horror?" (because there has been exclusion and tokenism and distortion) and noting that Black people already inhabit the genre, through the work done by Black filmmakers and through the imaginative engagement of Black audiences. Horror Noire was itself a film for Black audiences, not merely calling for better representation and more progressive subtext when it comes to horror films, but also inviting Black horror fans to celebrate the films that had already been made and honor the ways that Black people were already written into the history of the genre.

That's what made the film powerful: it exemplified Morrison's comment that getting work done in the teeth of the distractions of racism is the true challenge. If it was only a lament about racism, then white supremacy would once again have been unwittingly at the center, setting the terms of the discussion. Instead, Horror Noire evoked the pleasure we find in horror movies and told the story of the genre in such a way as to center Black faces and Black voices. Naturally, there was a didactic dimension, so that a white viewer like me could come to grips with notions like, "Oh, it never occurred to me that a Black viewer might feel othered by that subtext in that film." But even as someone trying to get outside his own perspective, I responded most powerfully to the way the film was constructed to foreground Black people watching and enjoying horror movies with each other.

It's about loving good horror movies.

Candyman feels as though someone was taking a lot of notes about the nuances of subtext while watching Horror Noire and saying, through gritted teeth, "this movie isn't going to be oblivious! This movie is going to answer the call!" And it's not politically oblivious; it definitely teases a lot of interesting ideas. By devoting so much energy to a cerebral engagement with an assortment of ideas, the film shifts itself into a more didactic space and away from that campfire-tale realm where we are helplessly drawn into the characters' lives and can feel vulnerable alongside them. As uhhhhwillow put it, "there was no sensuality, no sense of community, and no haunting presence to make me watch anxious and wide eyed." The filmmakers gathered a lot of provocative material and (in the course of arranging and rearranging those materials) formed some intriguing configurations, but at a certain point you got to stop reshuffling your cards and tell a story. When it was over, Candyman felt more like a homework assignment than like a scary movie. And that's a profound disappointment.

Something got in the way of doing the work. Or there was confusion about what "the work" really is. We don't need a provocative installation molded into the shape of a Candyman movie. We need the movie itself.

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