Candyman by Nia DaCosta is both a relaunch and a sequel. While it pays tribute to the classic films, it also deviates from their known patterns, building to an electrifying climax that seems both unexpected and entirely appropriate.
What occurs at the climax may seem complex at first, considering the unexpected manner in which it is initiated. The picture is far from simple, but the way its conceptual threads come together culminates in not just a fantastic conclusion to the film, but also a fantastic new start for the Candyman series.
Slasher films are no strangers to surprise villain revelations, and Colman Domingo’s Burke is an obvious contender, given his creepy entrance and extensive knowledge of Candyman. At the film’s conclusion, he discovers Anthony McCoy in a fugue state and tries to transform him into a Candyman in front of his girlfriend Brianna by sawing off Anthony’s arm, exchanging it with a hook used to hang meat, and later dressing Anthony in a brown coat which was familiar before calling the cops. His motivations, however, are not as straightforward as cult-like villains or bloodlust.
DaCosta’s gentle remake returns to the location of the original film — the now-defunct Cabrini-Green housing complex, whose impoverished Black residents have been evicted to make way for developers. Burke is one of the neighborhood’s few surviving inhabitants, and framing Anthony McCoy is his last effort to stave off gentrification. According to Burke’s warped reasoning, if another Candyman murderer is discovered in the project, residents may turn against the area and maintain their distance.
Burke is a myth keeper, and even if Candyman has faded from popular consciousness, he takes the tale with him. Before the film switches to the Church, where he keeps Anthony and Brianna prisoner, a flashback shows him seeing his sister die after calling Daniel Robitaille, the “original” Candyman, who was murdered for loving a white woman in the 1890s — by speaking his name in a mirror. Burke also saw the police beating to death an innocent guy who resembled Candyman, Sherman Fields, and was accused of placing razor blades in children’s sweets, when he was a kid. In both instances, Burke was the only spectator, but as he prepared to shape Anthony into Candyman’s image, he informed Brianna and said that now they have a witness.
Burke is intimately familiar with both of these tales — the supernatural slaughter and the actual violence that pervades his town — despite the fact that he has been forced to bear their pain alone. To him, they are all part of the same heritage, a narrative that has repeated itself throughout history, with many “Candymen” becoming victims of racial brutality, and that violence reappearing from beyond the dead to murder innocent people, such as his sister. Burke has succumbed to this cyclical reality in some ways, and he believes that maintaining the urban mythology is the only way to protect his area from the outside world’s violence.
Anthony is shot and killed in front of Brianna by Chicago PD after being framed by Burke. Brianna summons Candyman by repeating his name five times as the police scare her into giving their version of the incident. When this ghost initially manifests, he is encircled by a swarm of honeybees — similar to how Robitaille was tormented before his death — yet he looks and sounds just like Anthony.
Anthony, who was kidnapped as a newborn by Robitaille in the first Candyman (1992), spends most of the film learning his own past. At first, the tale serves just as background for his painting, but it quickly consumes him, not only artistically, but also physically. As his body decays, he begins to approximate Robitaille’s hideous, corpse-like look from earlier flicks. Whether he is amused or not, he is a part of the Candyman narrative — not only because he featured in the first movie, but because he is inextricably linked to America’s long history of bigotry, regardless of how much he tries to distance himself from it.
Burke regards Anthony’s return to Cabrini-Green, where he resided as a baby, as “perfect symmetry” — an inescapable echo in which Burke also participates by kidnapping Anthony in the manner Candyman previously did. Burke and Anthony both wear brown jackets, as do many Black characters who have played Candyman throughout the years, all of whom have suffered white supremacy. At the end, both Burke and Anthony have come to embody Candyman’s legacy and the suffering it symbolises for the residents of Cabrini-Green. Anthony gets immersed by this past to the point that he merges with Candyman’s angry form.