Billy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Make it your own, but keep some specifics.
If you asked me what I wanted from a Candyman sequel, I’d list off a few quick points: the living, changing myth of Candyman, Cabrini-Green, contemporary sociopolitical context, and Tony Todd. Nia DaCosta delivered on almost everything. I’ll expound on that first point later, but there are some other things that I should get down first.
I really enjoyed this film. It’s gorgeously shot, everyone is solid in their roles, the nods are loving but not totally overbearing (the opening credits’ inverse perspective of Chicago looking up into the foggy sky was a nice touch), and the messaging is a refreshing update on the original’s. I do think it struggled with genre pacing (and I don’t mean narrative pacing, which I think it moves almost too fast due to its short runtime), hitting hard once or twice in the first half but sitting back too long before returning to the in-frame horror. I don’t know if it’s improved with more scares or gore, but the order of ante-upping is where it falters. And maybe a little more of Philip Glass’s score wouldn’t have hurt.
The modern context of gentrification and buried history is bubbling under the surface of this film. All it takes is one bee sting, and the suppressed history of Anthony McCoy rears its ugly head in the form of what I can only imagine are the burn scars of the Cabrini-Green bonfire that took Helen nearly thirty years before. It spreads like a disease, rotting away to reveal his true self, a victim of the Candyman. Because that’s who he is. I would have enjoyed more from Tony Todd, but this isn’t his film. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II slides perfectly into a hybrid role that combines the delirium of Virginia Madsen’s performance, and something close (but not quote close enough) to Tony Todd’s tortured Candyman. I guess I had my cake but I couldn’t exactly eat it too, or else I would have had a bit more Daniel Robitaille.
But this is what was more important to me. The most interesting aspect of the Bernard Rose original is the very thing Helen and Bernadette are researching. The nature of urban legend; modern myth-making as a coping mechanism, a way to explain the horrors of real life. Human history is rife with these monster myths. This sequel picks up where that left off (trading the academic community for the Chicago art scene), showing us the legend can be many different things to different people, but as the story spreads to new communities the core tenants remain the same. Just like any spooky story, legend or childhood song: the framework is familiar but some details might twist or shift in oral history’s regional game of telephone. Candyman means something different, he is someone different depending on who tells the story. He’s Daniel Robitaille, Sherman Fields, Anthony McCoy. He’s the whole damn hive. Recontextualizing the character as a source of aggression against a community’s oppressors allows the horrors of the Candyman, who once attacked his own, to be reclaimed and turned outward against a common enemy. That is the intention here, and it is executed, I believe, quite successfully.