Candyman ★★½

Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, and Win Rosenfeld stuff this 91-minute movie with so many intriguing ideas that it can’t possibly address them all coherently or completely. DaCosta has a strong directorial voice, enhancing the terror of everyday reflections and stunning Chicago architecture with haunting, gorgeous framing. But the script is disappointingly unbalanced — it attempts to address gentrification, law enforcement, lynching, and racism in the art world, but drastically reduces their dramatic weight by commenting on them so overtly. Imagine if Get Out had a scene in the first ten minutes where Daniel Kaluuya explicitly said “white liberals are terrifyingly racist, and I must reluctantly engage with white expectations in both my career and personal relationships.”

Okay, Candyman isn’t that unsubtle, but it’s pretty damn close. DaCosta, Peele, and Rosenfeld repeatedly try to wax poetic about the horrors of American culture, but their characters talk so stiltedly about the movie’s themes that they almost sound like a group of critics chatting about a better version of this very movie, or like the writers pitching the concept of the movie to the studio execs. It’s well-intentioned but bizarre and ineffective in its communication tactics. 

The writing is so concerned with thematic resonance that it neglects the basics of screenwriting — the character arcs are messy and underdeveloped, the worldbuilding is perpetually confusing (and not in an intentionally or satisfyingly vague way), and the dialogue is disappointingly stiff. I thought Peele did a tremendous job integrating comedic asides into Get Out and Us to slightly alleviate tension at the most opportune moments without interrupting the overall suspense. This movie does the exact opposite: it inserts Marvel-style quips in the middle of pivotal scenes and destroys the dramatic weight that it so deeply wants to build. It feels like the movie was either a fully-produced first draft — full of placeholder dialogue and unfinished ideas — or a mess of studio notes trying to broaden the appeal and make the message more comprehensible. Either way, it’s perplexing and worthy of conversation, but its stumbles outweigh its virtues.

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