Nia DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ is more haunting than scary, and that’s a good thing

Nia DaCosta has made her mark with “Candyman,” the latest horror film to use social injustice as a theatrical platform.

But her take on the notorious stranger with a hook packs a punch in its quick running time. While some would argue the story could have used less espresso and more water, the tempo and overall aesthetic of the movie tells the story of a sprinter.

Our ambitious yet jaded artist formerly known as an innocent man in DaCosta’s film is Anthony McCoy, played with a sinister mad man potency by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. He has dazzled in just about everything he’s played a part in, whether it be superhero slumming with “Aquaman” or electrifying in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Here, the burner is turned down low for most of the running time, allowing Abdul Mateen (who stood out in HBO’s strong “Watchmen” take) to breathe life into the role.

While DaCosta’s film isn’t as scary or focused as it would like to be, the cinematography is audacious. DP John Guleserian forms something special with the director, pushing the boundaries of what a horror film can say and stand for. One scene in particular, where the camera slowly pulls back from a high rise as a woman is murdered in cold blood, is freakishly effective.

It’s a gorgeous-looking film overall. Shot in the same neighborhood and location as the original, and superior, 1992 version-the Cabrini. The setting plays a supporting role itself, wrapping its long, dark arms around the viewer as countless victims pronounce the fateful name, five times.

But while the gore comes in heavy waves, I liked what DaCosta chose to show us and what was withheld, at least in physical actuality. A slasher film with a message and some restraint is a worthy invite to the big theater. That’s where I watched this one, all by myself in a movie theater built to hold 140 people. The atmosphere of my surroundings aided the film I was watching, adding an unexpected eerie layer to the experience.

No, I didn’t say his damn name. The last thing I need is Tony Todd paying me a visit. By the end of this new film, fans of the original will smile wide at a respectfully powerful late cameo. The film gets its wings from the unexpected.

Sure, “Candyman” can be preachy at times and picked an odd spot to build a product that wasn’t technically classified as a remake or sequel (let’s just say the two films live in the same neighborhood). But in the end, I was entertained and moved in a way I hadn’t intended falling into before the lights went out.

There’s a little too much packed into the movie, though. So much so, one wonders if the editing was more cohesive, a particularly erratic late scene jumped the shark and nearly sank the picture. As much as I adore a 91 minute movie, perhaps DaCosta’s film could have used more time to properly unfold the blanket. At times, you could feel there were a few voices in this movie’s head. Jordan Peele co-wrote the script and produced the film, and certainly puts his mark on a few scenes.

Let it be known, though. This is DaCosta’s film. It’s more haunting than scary, and that’s a good thing.

Oh, Colmin Domingo can captivate any moviegoer’s attention with his eyes alone. And what “Candyman” film would be complete without Virginia Madsen’s endearing voice. Teyonah Parris, who shined in Disney’s “WandaVision,” gives Brianna, Anthony’s girlfriend, some extra beats and grace. Overall, the cast did a solid job.

This “Candyman” isn’t perfect-a little more rough around the edges than polished-but it gets the job done by the time the screen fades to fearful yet hopeful black.

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