Candyman is a nightmarish tale come to life as a symbol of oppression.
Candyman is a supernatural folktale in a realistic setting. Set in The Projects, the legend of Candyman is a symbol of fear, oppression and desperation in a hopeless vicious cycle. Told as a dark fairytale, Candyman comes to life in a surreal and nightmarish folktale. The atmosphere is sober and sombre, increased by the intense music. A poetic style adds to the surrealism. This contrast between the hard and raw reality and the dreamlike feel of the film results in an artistic story with a strong social message.
Helen Lyle wants to write her thesis on the legend of Candyman, who supposedly roams The Projects in Chicago. Her investigation is not welcomed by the residents and a first search leads her to a drugsdealer who calls himself Candyman. But when she challenges the legend and speaks his name five times aloud in front of a mirror, she discovers that the legend of Candyman might be all too real and he has his eye on her.
Why you should watch it
The structure of the film combines realism of the Projects and the realism of Candyman’s true history with his ghostly surrealistic presence. Both his own story and the lives of the residents of the Projects are unfair, hopeless and full of fear and give a false sense of freedom. The believe in a boogeyman is a result of that fear come to life. You might even say Candyman is a Tulpa, brought to life with thoughts of fear and desperation. While both he and the drugsdealer Candyman profit and live off those fears, it has become a vicious cycle. It’s a hard and realistic look on people who already struggle with life.
The realism is in contrast with the nightmare called Candyman. Like the residents, he also projects his fears and hopelessness on Helen, whom he sees as his long lost love, the reason why he was murdered. Her descent into madness caused by Candyman to make her his own, is a beautiful horror surreal nightmare. His grip on Helen becomes more and more the focus of the film, pushing away the real world. Her life becomes a real nightmare blending reality with madness.
But the horror is all too real. Bloody and messy, gruesome scenes, a stolen baby and violent deaths, seem to chase her. It’s Candyman and his symbol of fear of that causes violent horror.
His figure is charismatic, fearsome and maybe even regal-like. The bees are frightful and give an extra scary vibe. Just like his hook for a hand. Although he is the villain of the story, his backstory makes him human and the injustice done to him and his passion understandable. Just like Candyman himself, the problems and fears are not black and white, but complex and full of (hidden) trauma.
However the focus on the real social issues are never forgotten, not by the storyline, nor by Helen herself. It turns her into one of the most willful and determined final girls to help those who are abandoned.
The cinematography is at times gorgeous, real and surreal at the same time, blending fiction and folkore with harsh reality. It has a poetic tone that at times is horrific and at other times really heartbreaking. Increased by a melancholic piano and the intense music by Philip Glass, it sets a unique tone and atmosphere. It plays on the emotions rather than rational thoughts, while the realistic parts are all too real. But both make you feel uncomfortable.
My favorite part
The ending of the film is an epic and heroic effort. It’s heartbreaking and an attempt of making amends. It’s a built up to hope, crawling out of misery and desperation into the light and maybe leading to different times. It shows that an unfair society that is maintained by multiple factors, from both sides, can be changed. Though it’s going to be a painful battle illustrated by Helen’s madness, her strength and believe in herself while everybody else thinks she’s crazy, she finally overcomes. It’s not only her own battle she must fight, but it is a symbolic one as well. This mixed with the surreal and maddening situations in which she finds herself, shot in horrific scenes are what gives both the movie and Helen her strength.
But not only an outsider brings hope but the young Jake as well. Standing up for himself and others, he’s brave and faces his fears in helping Helen. He’s an endearing and courageous boy who lightens up a scene. It’s another gleam of hope coming from the next generation, who has the courage to change things. A new generation symbolized by baby Anthony saved by Helen.
Surreal factor: ★★★★☆
Gruesome factor: ★★★★☆
Originality factor: ★★★★☆
Cast and crew
Candyman is based on the short story The Forbidden by Clive Barker. It’s directed and written by Bernard Rose. It stars Virginia Madsen (Helen), Tony Todd (Candyman), Xander Berkeley (Trevor), Vanessa Estelle Williams (Anne-Marie McCoy) and Kasi Lemmons (Bernadette).
Duration: 99 minutes. Music: Philip Glass. Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond. Edited by: Dan Rae. Produced by: Steve Golin, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Alan Poul. Production companies: Propaganda Films, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. Distributed by: TriStar Pictures.