Video courtesy Universal.

Who can take a reboot, sprinkle it with something new, cover it with blood and bumblebees and a pointed social commentary or two? Candyman can, at least for a little while, even if the movie doesn't really find its more-than-body-horror groove in the end.

The long-delayed sequel to the cult 1992 original certainly comes with a shiny updated pedigree: a script co-penned by Jordan Peele; a smart young cast that includes Teyonah Parris (WandaVision) and Yahya Abdul Mateen II (Watchmen, The Trial of the Chicago 7); a whiz-kid director, Nia DaCosta (following her 2018 indie debut, Little Woods, she's set to helm next year's MCU tentpole The Marvels). There's even a moment midway through where Parris' Brianna, frantic to escape a booby-trapped room, finds a stairway to a dank unlit basement and simply says, "No." There may be death waiting for her up there on the ground floor, but at least she won't go down like a midnight-movie cliché.

It's hard not to wish for more of that kind of prickly self-awareness in a film (in theaters this Friday), which otherwise rests most of its premise on characters acting exactly like the kind of well-trod archetypes that scene references: The Ones Who Fail to Realize They're In a Scary Movie. If only they could hear Sammy Davis Jr. singing the titular song over the opening credits until his voice melts and distorts like a Dali clock, at least a few of them might have had a clue what they're in for: the man, the myth, the hook.

| Credit: Parrish Lewis/Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures

As it is they're mostly just upwardly mobile Chicagoans living their best young-bourgeoisie lives — like gallery director Brianna (Parris), and her artist boyfriend Anthony (Mateen II) who've recently moved into a spacious loft on the city's once-shabby industrial side, despite tart lectures from her brother (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) on the long history of gentrification. Suffering from painter's block, Anthony wanders into the shuttered Cabrini-Green housing projects nearby and finds inspiration in the stories of an improbably friendly resident (Zola's Colman Domingo): campfire tales steeped in lore of a local eccentric with a hook for a hand and a habit of trailing honeybees behind him as he passes out candy to children. Summon him by saying his name five times in a mirror and he'll wreak 10 times what was done to him, once upon a time.

The Candyman-inspired work that an increasingly obsessive Anthony installs at Briana's latest opening provides the mirror and the means to resurrect him; several doomed meatbags almost immediately comply. There's some satisfying schadenfreude in watching gallery snobs and mean-girl high schoolers get disemboweled for being dumb enough to court death so breezily, but there's nothing new or shocking about their pulpy ends either. And as much care as Peele and Co. take to underscore the role of Blackness and justice and the basic struggle just be seen and acknowledged as a human being — Say His Name, pointedly, is the movie's tagline — those ideas are never fully explored or integrated into the standard slash-and-burn march of the plot.

That leaves roughly 90 minutes to watch these incongruous aims bob and weave into each other's lanes: the squishy bits of jump-scare butchery bumping up against the sharper edges of sociopolitical currency. (There are echoes too of another recent experiment in zeitgeist-y art-world horror, 2019's Velvet Buzzsaw). Which is more than enough time to fill a bucket with bees and gore, but too brief to play out the intriguing tease of what the movie's deeper, truer terrors might have been. Grade: B-

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Candyman (2021 movie)
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