*. I’ve said that Jordan Peele’s Get Out is not just one of my favourite horror movies of the last ten years but one of my favourite movies period in that time frame. But since then Peele hasn’t impressed as much, and I’m starting to get a sense that he may never live up to such a great start.
*. I’m talking about Peele because Candyman feels very much like his movie. He was originally tabbed to write and direct but had to back out of direction duties. He still served as producer though and shared a writing credit so I think of this as being one of his babies.
*. What happened to Peele? I think there are a couple of answers to that, both coming back to the idea that he was spoiled by the success of Get Out to the point where he wanted to recapture its lightning in a bottle by copying the same formula that worked so well the first time.
*. Here that meant making a specifically “woke” horror movie. To be honest, I don’t think I’d heard, or at least registered, the word “woke” before listening to Peele’s DVD commentary track for Get Out, where he repeats it constantly.
*. I’m not going to try and explain what woke means in this context aside from saying it involves presenting a point of view that’s aware of Black issues. Which is a fine approach to take, and even admirable in a lot of ways. It worked really well in Get Out. But by the time of Us it had started to feel strained and here it’s pushed past the breaking point. Woke talking points on matters like police brutality and the gentrification of the ghetto are raised but they feel shoehorned into a plot that doesn’t have any clear point to make about them. The police murder of the hero makes no sense (they shoot a dead man?) and the people who we see taking advantage of gentrification are all upscale Black people. I wasn’t even sure if gentrification was being presented as a bad thing. Nor does any of this add much to the movie.
*. The second inheritance from Get Out is the crazy plot twist. Again, in Get Out I thought this was brilliant and worked perfectly with the rest of the film. In Us it had become confusing and overwrought. In Candyman it is totally incoherent. I honestly don’t know what was finally supposed to be going on in this movie. I was even wondering if the whole thing was a hallucination McCoy was having after being stung by the bee while photographing the church. Are we supposed to feel something supernatural is actually happening? What? Is Candyman a Black folk hero, meting out racial justice on the oppressors, or an evil slasher killing indiscriminately? I don’t know.
*. This falling in love with plot twists made me think of M. Night Shyamalan, another director who has kept repeating himself to diminishing returns. The spirit of this sort of storytelling may have its roots in Serling’s Twilight Zone, a source that both Shyamalan (see what he had to say about Old) and Peele (who produced a Twilight Zone reboot) have acknowledged. And it’s a good model, as long as it’s kept in check and weirdness isn’t allowed to become its own reason for being.
*. I started out liking the look of the film, even breaking into a huge grin at the reverse of the obligatory overhead car shot, which works with the whole visual motif of mirroring and reversals in the movie. But was Nia DaCosta the right choice for direction? She doesn’t seem to care much about suspense or horror. Instead the few scary stops along the way are presented as stylistic flourishes. They look neat, but they aren’t scary. The art critic being killed in her apartment as the camera looks on from a block away is the best example of this. There’s also a scene set in a girl’s washroom that’s all flash with no payoff. Compare the brilliant use of the mirror in the elevator scene in De Palma’s Dressed to Kill to what’s done with the compact mirror here.
*. In short, the whole thing was a big disappointment. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II seems miscast as McCoy, and curiously without agency. I liked him better as Black Manta in Aquaman, where his musculature also made more sense. Other characters who seem important are left totally undeveloped. It took a while for me just to twig to the fact that the well-preserved Vanessa Williams was McCoy’s mother, and she only shows up to introduce a ridiculous plot point. And is that Brianna’s father who jumps out of the window? What was that all about?
*. I also have to mention that there are some CGI bees, and CGI insects (as I’ve had occasion to mention before) never look good. Though DaCosta won a PETA award for not harming any actual honeybees in the filming.
*. The first Candyman has attained a minor cult status and I think it’s still a pretty good movie. I didn’t even know about the pair of sequels made in the 1990s. One gets the sense that they might have had thoughts of spinning this one off into a franchise with the idea of there being a hive of Candymen out there. I hope this marks the end though, as they had nothing interesting to say. But to be honest, at this point I’m more concerned about Jordan Peele. He isn’t even running in place anymore. He’s going into reverse.