Review: ‘One Day as a Lion,’ starring Scott Caan, Frank Grillo and J.K. Simmons

April 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Virgina Madsen, Marianne Rendón and Scott Caan in “One Day as a Lion” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“One Day as a Lion”

Directed by John Swab

Culture Representation: Taking place in Oklahoma, the action film “One Day as a Lion” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A bungling assassin, who wants enough money to get his son out of juvenile detention, kidnaps a waitress while getting caught up in a debt-collection feud between his crime-boss employer and a stubborn rancher. 

Culture Audience: “One Day as a Lion” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and don’t mind watching meaningless and moronic action flicks.

J.K. Simmons and Frank Grillo in “One Day as a Lion” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“One Day as a Lion” has the whimper of a weak and rambling vanity project rather than the roar of a great action flick. Scott Caan, who wrote and co-stars in “One Day as a Lion,” just wants to show off doing fight scenes in his underwear. J.K. Simmons is slumming it in this garbage film. Simmons is a very talented Oscar-winning actor, but “One Day as a Lion” looks like a low-quality movie he was talked into doing out of pity or because he owes someone a favor. Simmons certainly acts like he doesn’t want to be there.

Directed by John Swab, “One Day as a Lion” (which takes place in Oklahoma) looks like a sloppy version of a screenplay that was already unfocused. Viewers can expect to see a lot of terrible acting in this idiotic story about an assassin who goes from place to place, in scatter-brained efforts to find enough money to get his son out of juvenile detention. Along the way, he encounters characters that are either boring or stupid.

A press release for “One Day as a Lion” describes this train-wreck movie as a “witty homage to [Quentin] Tarantino and the Coen brothers.” An accurate description is a “failed and irritating attempt to be a witty homage to [Quentin] Tarantino and the Coen brothers.” It’s the type of bad movie that doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. It just gets worse and worse, with no self-awareness of how horrible it is.

The assassin at the center of this nonsense is Jackie Powers (played by Caan), a dimwitted, good-for-nothing loser. Jackie botches a job to collect a debt from a stubborn and mean-spirited rancher named Walter Boggs (played by Simmons), who is supposed to be murdered by Jackie if the debt isn’t paid. Jackie has been hired by a thug named Pauly Russo (played by Frank Grillo, doing yet another “tough guy” role in his long list of “tough guy” roles), who is running out of patience.

Pauly is described as some kind of powerful crime boss, but he’s not very smart if he hired a buffoon like Jackie. The beginning of the movie shows Jackie following Walter into a diner and trying to convince Walter to pay the money. Walter is having none of it, and a shootout happens between Walter and Jackie.

In the mayhem, the diner’s cook/manager Bob (played by Bruce Davis) is shot and left possibly dead on the floor. Jackie kidnaps a waitress named Lola Brisky (played by Marianne Rendón), a witness to the entire shootout. Meanwhile, Walter gets away on horseback. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Jackie confronts Walter again, this time at Walter’s ranch. Pauly has ordered Jackie to tell Walter that Walter has one week to pay back the money that Walter owes Pauly. Walter snarls at Jackie, “Don’t fucking tell me what I will or will not do.” This is the type of amateurish and unimaginative dialogue that pollutes “One Day as a Lion.”

Jackie eventually finds out Lola comes from a rich family, but she’s estranged from her widowed mother Valerie Brisky (played by Virginia Madsen), who is currently in a hospital and dying of cancer. In this small, unnamed Oklahoma community, Valerie has the unflattering nickname The Black Widow, because all four of her wealthy husbands died within a year of each marriage. The movie has a very tedious section about Lola reluctantly visiting Valerie to ask Valerie for money, while Lola pretends that Lola and Frankie are engaged to be married. There’s a very unfunny running gag that Valerie has a craving to eat crab legs.

Meanwhile, Frankie has his own real-life relationship woes, since he’s still having conflicts with his nasty-tempered and foul-mouthed ex-wife Taylor Love (played by Taryn Manning) over how their son Billy Powers (played by Dash Melrose) is being raised. Jackie and Taylor blame each other for Billy ending up in juvenile detention. Billy was arrested for a crime that he says he didn’t commit. The people who are supposed to be family members in “One Day as a Lion” are not convincing at all as relatives.

None of the acting in “One Day as a Lion” is any good. Rendón’s drab performance as Lola is the worst and can best be described as “dead weight.” It looks like another miscast role that was cast because someone owed someone else a favor. Rendón has zero chemistry with Caan, even though Lola and Jackie predictably are supposed to be each other’s love interest.

“One Day as a Lion” has a very flimsy backstory for Lola. She grew up in Oklahoma, but moved away from her hometown a few years ago, because her hometown reminded her of “failure” and “trauma.” She relocated to Costa Rica, where she started an acting school. And when that failed, she moved back to Oklahoma. The only purpose for this information is so the movie can show Lola using her “acting skills” to help Jackie get out of tricky situations. Lola, like Rendón, has cringeworthy acting.

Caan seems to have written this movie so he could have multiple scenes of him showing off his body instead of doing any real acting. There’s a ridiculous-looking scene of Jackie getting ambushed in a motel room while he’s wearing nothing but tight underwear briefs. All of the fights in this movie look very phony, by the way.

And if you want to continue to punish yourself by watching “One Day as a Lion” until the end credits, then you’ll see a useless end-credits scene of Caan as Jackie wearing nothing but the same underwear while getting into another fight with another man in the same motel. Both scenes have homoerotic undertones, although a “trying too hard to be macho” dolt like Jackie would probably deny it. The end-credits scene, just like this entire junkpile movie, adds up to nothing but meaningless drivel from people who just waste time embarrassing themselves in this rotten film.

Lionsgate released “One Day as a Lion” in select U.S. cinemas on April 4, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on April 7, 2023.

Review: ‘Prey for the Devil,’ starring Jacqueline Byers, Colin Salmon, Christian Navarro, Lisa Palfrey, Nicholas Ralph, Ben Cross and Virginia Madsen

October 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Posy Taylor, Jacqueline Byers and Christian Navarro in “Prey for the Devil” (Photo by Vlad Cioplea/Lionsgate)

“Prey for the Devil”

Directed by Daniel Stamm

Some language in Latin with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Rome and an unnamed city in the United States, the horror film “Prey for the Devil” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Catholic nun defies the Catholic Church’s policy of forbidding women to perform exorcisms, around the same time that the nun develops an emotional bond with a 10-year-old girl who is believed to be possessed by the devil

Culture Audience: “Prey for the Devil” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of exorcism horror movies, but the movie’s often-silly plot and sluggish pacing diminish any horror that would have had more of an impact.

Posy Taylor in “Prey for the Devil” (Photo by Vlad Cioplea/Lionsgate)

“Prey for the Devil” is yet another half-baked horror movie with a scattered plot, made worse by a very weak ending. The exorcism scenes only provide occasional horror that has been used in many similar movies. The acting performances range from watchable to forgettable, but these performances are undercut by a lot of very hokey dialogue. If 1973’s “The Exorcist” is the gold standard for exorcism horror movies, then “Prey for the Devil” is like a wooden, counterfeit coin.

Directed by Daniel Stamm and written by Robert Zappia, “Prey for the Devil” (which is titled “The Devil’s Light” in some countries outside the U.S.) is a movie that seems to want to say and do a lot in the story, but it’s the equivalent of someone telling a story while mumbling and going off on different tangents, with occasional outbursts that might catch people’s attention. Some characters and subplots are introduced, and could have been intriguing additions, but nothing really happens with these characters and subplots, which ultimately go nowhere. The movie also has very unrealistic portrayals of the lifestyles of Roman Catholic nuns and priests.

“Prey for the Devil” begins by showing an American girl named Ann Kraja (played by Debora Zhecheva), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, praying intensely in a room. The door is locked from the inside, and her unnamed mother (played by Koyna Ruseva) is pounding vigorously on the door and demanding that Ann let her inside. The mother uses her fists to pound on the door. And then, the mother uses her head to try to break down the door.

The movie then abruptly cuts to a scene showing an adult Ann, who is now a 25-year-old Catholic nun in an unnamed U.S. city. (“Prey for the Devil” was actually filimed in Sofia, Bulgaria.) Sister Ann (played by Jacqueline Byers) is being interviewed by a psychiatrist named Dr. Peters (played by Virginia Madsen) in a private office meeting.

Dr. Peters is asking Sister Ann to describe Ann’s mother and Ann’s childhood. (Ann’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie.) It’s revealed in this interview and in flashbacks that Ann’s mother, who is now deceased, had schizophrenia and was very abusive to Ann. For example, Ann’s mother would tear out Ann’s hair while brushing it. Ann’s mother would also frequently beat her.

Sister Ann explains that she knew since she was a child that her mother had some type of mental illness. However, Sister Ann believes that something else was behind her mother’s abusiveness: “It was the thing inside her. She was possessed.” Sister Ann also vividly remembers that her mother would sing a particular song around the same time that the mother would inflict abuse on Ann as a child. This “demon’s song” becomes a recurring plot device throughout the movie.

Why is Sister Ann undergoing a psychiatric exam by Dr. Peters? Dr. Peters works with the Catholic Church in preparing clergy who will be learning about how to perform exorcisms. The clergy people who want to perform exorcism rituals must pass a psychiatric exam to make sure that they are mentally fit for these rituals. Near the beginning of “Prey for the Devil,” captions mention that the Catholic Church began formally teaching exorcism rituals in 1835, and the Catholic Church began teaching exorcism rituals outside of Rome in 2018.

The Catholic Church only allows male priests to perform exorcisms, but Sister Ann is eager to learn what she can, so she is allowed to attend exorcism classes on an audit basis. She’s one of only a few nuns in a classroom full of priests. The chief instructor/professor is Father Quinn (played by Colin Salmon), a Brit who likes to talk as if he’s always giving a sermon and doling out his own proverbs. At first, Father Quinn is reluctant to let Ann attend his classes, but he gradually learns to respect Ann for her determination to learn and willingness to be as helpful as possible.

Father Quinn is the type of priest who will say in his class lectures: “Demons are the foot soldiers of the devil … We have to understand the correct points of attack.” But if Father Quinn is a wannabe military-like general in this war against the devil, the movie presents some scenarios where Father Quinn is made to look woefully inept when it comes to handling real exorcisms, not simulated training sessions.

Sister Ann soon ends up becoming friendly with two priests in the class: Father Dante (played by Christian Navarro) and Father Raymond (played by Nicholas Ralph), who are both in their late 20s or early 30s. Father Dante is a former gang member who looks at Sister Ann often as if he’s physically attracted to her. Just because Catholic priests and nuns take vows of celibacy doesn’t mean they lose the ability to experience sexual attraction.

Father Raymond also seems to find Sister Ann attractive, but he isn’t as obvious about it as Father Dante is. Sister Ann is very aware that these two men think that she’s pretty, and she somewhat flirts with them in a scene where she winks at both of them in class. Does any of this sexual tension have anything to do with the exorcism story? No, but it’s an example of how the “Prey for the Devil” seems like it’s starting a subplot, and then just leaves it to dangle unresolved.

Around the same time that Sister Ann begins attending these exorcism classes, she meets a patient in a local psychiatric hospital named Natalie (played by Posy Taylor), a 10-year-old girl whose single mother is convinced that Natalie is possessed by the devil. One of the oddest things about “Prey for the Devil” is that Natalie’s mother (played by Yana Marinova) is essentially a background character who’s barely in the movie. Most of Natalie’s scenes in the movie show Natalie without any parental supervision.

Natalie is an inquisitive and precocious girl who seems to have an instant connection to Sister Ann when they first meet each other. Natalie tells Sister Ann within minutes of meeting her in the hospital, “You’re my favorite person here.” Something from Ann’s past is eventually revealed. And as soon as it’s revealed, it becomes very obvious why Natalie formed an immediate bond with Ann.

Sister Ann’s first impressions of Natalie are that Natalie is a sweet and harmless child. But it isn’t long before Natalie has a demon possession episode that Sister Ann witnesses with Father Quinn, Father Dante and Father Raymond. Father Quinn has instructed Father Dante and Father Raymond to perform the exorcism rituals on Natalie, but things get out of control, and someone in this group gets seriously injured when the demon-possessed Natalie attacks.

This exorcism scene is one of the best in “Prey for the Devil,” because it has the type of horror that should have been more prevalent in this movie. There are the expected wild-eyed hissings and extreme body contortions (through visual effects) that demon-possessed people usually have in exorcism movies. A visually striking scene involves Natalie’s hair that plunges down her mouth and then seems to have the ability to strangle. It’s the closest that “Prey for the Devil” comes to having an original scare, which is probably why this scene is featured in the movie’s poster.

But these horror moments come in stops and starts. “Prey for the Devil” has long stretches where not much happens except that Sister Ann becomes more rebellious about what she’s not allowed to do as a nun learning exorcism rituals. She has a stereotypically stern Mother Superior named Sister Euphemia (played by Lisa Palfrey), who is appalled that Sister Ann doesn’t want to follow the traditional gender roles of Catholic Church clergy. Father Dante also has a rebellious streak, so it’s easy to figure out what will happen when Sister Ann and Father Dante become close friends.

Sister Ann’s determination to continue to learn exorcism rituals gets to the point where an emergency meeting is held with a church official named Cardinal Matthews (played by Ben Cross), who has to decide if Sister Ann can continue her exorcism studies under Father Quinn’s tutelage. (Cross died in August 2020, at the age of 72, which gives you an idea of how long ago “Prey for the Devil” was filmed. The movie lists a brief dedication to Cross during the end credits.)

Just when you think that Natalie’s demonic possession will be the focus of the movie …. surprise! “Prey for the Devil” throws in a subplot about Father Dante’s younger sister Emilia (played by Cora Kirk) experiencing demonic possession too. Emilia was an unwed expectant mother whose pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Or did it? She’s been bedridden with what appears to be depression ever since. You can easily predict how Emilia’s pregnancy issues will be used in a horror scene.

One of the biggest problems with “Prey for the Devil” is that it plays fast and loose with depicting the lifestyles of Catholic nuns and priests. Sister Ann is probably the most glamorous nun her parish has ever seen, with her shoulder-length platinum blonde hair (which is very flashy by nun standards) often styled like the actress that Byers is. Catholic nuns are supposed to have modest appearances when it comes to their hair, which is why most Catholic nuns wear their hair short or cover their hair with veils. Although Sister Ann does wear veils sometimes, when she doesn’t wear veils, she looks like she’s an actress about to go on a Hollywood audition.

The travel and leisure time of Catholic nuns and priests are usually strictly regulated and require their church’s approval. But there are scenes in the movie where Sister Ann and Father Dante seem to have an unrealistic amount of leisure time to globetrot like jet-setting clergy. Considering some of the things that Sister Ann and Father Dante do to get reprimanded by their clergy superiors, it’s unlikely that Sister Ann and Father Dante would have the type of travel freedom that’s depicted in the movie. All of this might sound like nitpicky details, but “Prey for the Devil” gets it wrong in these details—all indications of carelessness in the filmmaking.

Mostly, what’s disappointing about “Prey for the Devil” is how dull and unimaginative it is for the majority of the film. Byers looks like an actress who’s role-playing as a nun, which is why she isn’t completely convincing as Sister Ann, who wants to be taken seriously as a nun. Madsen’s Dr. Peters character is underdeveloped and is basically just in the movie to give Sister Ann pep talks telling Sister Ann not to give up.

Taylor’s portrayal of troubled child Natalie has some effectively creepy moments that are the few highlights of this boring horror movie. Salmon, Navarro, Ralph and Cross give competent performances as the male clergy, but none of these performances stands out as special. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the cast members’ acting, but it barely elevates the mediocre-to-bad material.

“Prey for the Devil” makes quasi-attempts to make social commentaries about sexism against women in the Catholic Church, as well as how some religions (such as Catholicism) will teach people to feel guilty about dictated morality, such as putting a stigma on pregnancy out of wedlock. But the movie has nothing clever to say about these social issues. Sister Ann wearing a priest’s robe and collar near the end of the movie doesn’t count as a clever statement of female empowerment.

The movie’s big climactic scene is a huge letdown, considering how “Prey for the Devil” could have ended in ways that are far superior to the movie’s underwhelming and very predictable conclusion to the final showdown. The movie’s visual effects are adequate, but visual effects are wasted if the overall story is subpar. And the movie’s very last scene looks like the filmmakers just ran out of ideas on how to end the film.

“Prey for the Devil” is ultimately a forgettable exorcism movie that doesn’t seem to care about bringing anything new or exciting to the sub-genre of exorcism horror. It squanders and fumbles many opportunities that shouldn’t have been squandered and fumbled. Therefore, viewers shouldn’t feel like “Prey for the Devil” is a “must-see” exorcism movie, because it’s not.

Lionsgate will release “Prey for the Devil” in U.S. cinemas on October 28, 2022.

Review: ‘Candyman’ (2021), starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Colman Domingo

August 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “Candyman” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Candyman” (2021)

Directed by Nia DaCosta

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chicago, the horror film “Candyman” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people and a few Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: An up-and-coming conceptual artist (whose latest art exhibition explores themes of racism against black people) experiences the horror of Candyman, a legendary African American ghost representing black people who have been the targets of violent racism.

Culture Audience: “Candyman” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the 1992 “Candyman” movie, filmmaker Jordan Peele and horror movies that have themes of racial inequalities and social justice.

Teyonah Parris and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “Candyman” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The 2021 movie “Candyman” is not a remake/reboot of the 1992 horror movie “Candyman” It’s a very worthy sequel that takes a more creative and more socially conscious approach to race relations and racist violence than the first “Candyman” movie. The 2021 “Candyman” somewhat sputters out toward the end, almost like the filmmakers ran out of ideas of how the story should conclude. But most of the movie strikes the right balance of paying homage to the original “Candyman” while coming up with its own clever sequel story.

The fact that the 2021 “Candyman” movie is a sequel, not a remake/reboot, is hinted at in the movie’s first trailer, which briefly features Vanessa Estelle Williams, who was a cast member of the original “Candyman” movie. She makes a non-flashback cameo in the 2021 “Candyman” that is memorable and not too surprising, considering her character’s story line in 1992’s “Candyman.” And there’s another non-flashback cameo from another original “Candyman” cast member that is supposed to be a sudden plot twist, but this person’s appearance is not really a surprise. It would only be a surprise if this person wasn’t in this sequel.

One the main differences in the 2021 “Candyman” movie and the 1992 “Candyman” movie is that the latter film now has diversity in the race and gender of the writers, producers and directors. The 1992 “Candyman” had only white men as the director, writer and producers. Meanwhile, 2021’s “Candyman” has an African American woman as the director/co-writer (Nia DaCosta) and an African American man (Jordan Peele) as a co-writer/producer.

DaCosta and Peele co-wrote the 2021 “Candyman” screenplay with Win Rosenfeld, who is one of the producers of the film. Ian Cooper is the other producer of 2021’s “Candyman.” Peele was the first black person to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay; it was for his 2017 horror film “Get Out.” He has said in many interviews that he wants the horror movies that he writes and produces to explore themes of racism and race relations.

Peele was originally going to direct this “Candyman” sequel, but instead handed over the directorial reins to DaCosta. “Candyman” is her second feature film, and it shows that she has immense talent, especially when it comes to crafting visuals that are perfectly suited for the story. It’s rare for a horror movie directed by a woman of color to be released worldwide by a major studio. Let’s hope that “Candyman” is a step in the right direction for more opportunities to be opened up to talented and qualified women of color directors for horror movies, a genre that is overwhelmingly dominated by white male directors.

People don’t need to see the 1992 “Candyman” to understand the 2021 “Candyman” movie, which does an excellent job of recapping and explaining the original “Candyman” film. Candyman is a mysterious and vengeful ghost of an African American man who died because of racist violence. Both movies takes place in Chicago, but the themes in both films speak to universal and ugly truths about how racism is usually the reason why black people are harmed by people of other races.

In the 1992 “Candyman” movie, Candyman’s real name was Daniel Robitaille (played by Tony Todd), an artist/slave’s son who was murdered by a racist white mob in 1890. Why was he murdered? He and Caroline Sullivan, the daughter of a white aristocrat, fell in love with each other, and she got pregnant. Daniel met Caroline because her father had hired Daniel to paint her portrait.

Before he was murdered, right-handed Daniel’s right hand was amputated. As a ghost, he now has a hook where his right hand was. The angry mob of people who killed Daniel covered him in honey and unloaded a swarm of bees onto him. The ghost of Candyman is supposed to appear when someone looks in a mirror and chants “Candyman” five times. If there are bees nearby, that means Candyman could be somewhere close.

In the 1992 “Candyman” movie, university graduate student Helen Lyle (played by Virginia Madsen) is researching the Candyman legend for a doctorate thesis. Candyman is summoned, and he ends up wreaking havoc in Helen’s life, as she is blamed for murders that Candyman committed. In the movie, Williams portrays a single mother named Anne-Marie McCoy, whose baby son was kidnapped. Anne-Marie lives in Chicago’s low-income Cabrini-Green area, where many of the African American residents believe that Candyman is real.

One of the criticisms that the original “Candyman” got was how a movie that was supposed to be about an African American ghost haunted by racist trauma instead centered the story on a white woman who was being blamed for a black man’s crimes. In addition, there was a sexual component to why Candyman specifically targeted Helen (it’s explained why in the movie), as if Candyman’s main priority was to go after a white woman as a sexual conquest. It played into the same racist stereotypes that got Candyman murdered.

The 2021 “Candyman” movie attempts to remedy some of these problematic racial depictions, by making toxic people the targets of Candyman’s wrath. There’s a middle-aged boss who abuses his power by sleeping with his willing young adult female interns, because he implies that he’ll give them career rewards if they sleep with him. There’s a racially condescending art critic who has no problem exploiting black people’s pain in art if it means she’ll get some glory from writing about it. There’s a small group of “mean girls” in high school who bully an African American female student. And, not surprisingly, racist white cops are the biggest villains in the story.

In the 2021 “Candyman,” up-and-coming conceptual artist Anthony McCoy (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) decides to make the Candyman legend the theme for an art installation that is part of a gallery display. Anthony’s live-in girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (played by Teyonah Parris) is a curator at the gallery, which is owned by her boss Clive Privler (played by Mike Davis), who is very impressed with Anthony’s talent. Anthony hasn’t been able to make money as an artist for quite some time, so this gallery exhibit is a big career boost for him.

Before he creates the art installation, Anthony does more research into the Candyman legend by going to the places in the area formerly known as Cabrini-Green, where Candyman was known to haunt. In real life, the Cabrini-Green housing project’s buildings were torn down from 1995 to 2011, to make way for gentrification. While in the former Cabrini-Green area, Anthony gets stung by a bee on his right hand.

Anthony also meets someone named William Burke (played by Colman Domingo), who claims to have seen Candyman. It happened when William was about 11 or 12 years old. Back then, William went by the name Billy (played by Rodney L. Jones III), who grew up in Cabrini-Green.

Billy first saw this man named Sherman Fields (played by Michael Hargrove) literally come out of a hole in the wall of public laundry room to offer William some candy. (It’s one of the creepier scenes in the movie.) At the time, someone was going around the neighborhood giving kids candy that had razor blades hidden in the candy.

Did Sherman do the same thing to Billy? That question is answered in the movie. But it’s enough to say that a sketch of Sherman is on a “Wanted” poster that the cops have posted in the neighborhood. Billy is frightened by this stranger and sees him as Candyman. Billy yells for help. Some patrol officers who were staked out in their car nearby storm into the room to rescue Billy and arrest Sherman. Things do not end well for Sherman, an unarmed black man surrounded by white police officers.

It’s not spoiler information to say that the 2021 “Candyman” movie takes the approach that several black men who were murdered by angry and racist white people could become Candyman. William says in the movie: “Candyman is how we deal with the fact that it’s happened—that it’s still happening.” At another point in the movie, William says, “Candyman ain’t a ‘he.’ Candyman’s the whole damn hive.”

“Candyman” also has plenty of social commentary on gentrification. Cabrini-Green has been renamed the North Side, which is the home of upscale residential buildings that were developed as low-income people were priced out of the neighborhood, and higher-income people (usually white) moved in. Anthony and Brianna live in one of these upscale high-rise buildings.

Brianna comes from a cultured and educated family, so her background is very different from Anthony’s background. But that doesn’t mean she had a perfect childhood, because she’s haunted by a childhood tragedy that’s revealed in this movie. Brianna’s openly gay and sassy younger brother Troy (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) provides much of the comic relief and “real talk” in the movie. He has a new-ish boyfriend named Grady (played by Kyle Kaminsky), who is as laid-back as Troy is energetic.

Troy is the one who actually tells Brianna and Anthony the legend of Candyman. It’s in an early scene in the film where Anthony and Brianna have invited Troy and Grady over to dinner for a small housewarming celebration, since Anthony and Brianna have recently moved into this loft apartment. Brianna scoffs at the idea of believing in ghosts, while Anthony is intrigued. Once he hears about Candyman and looks further into Candyman stories, he’s inspired to make it a theme for his current art installation. And it’s about time that Anthony gets paid for his work, because Troy is starting to disapprove of Anthony being constantly broke while Brianna has to pay all of the couple’s bills.

Brianna, Troy and some of the black people who interact with them at the art gallery represent the educated African Americans who too often are overlooked or underrepresented in American-made movies. The 1992 “Candyman” movie had some of this representation with Helen’s best friend Bernadette “Bernie” Walsh (played by Kasi Lemmons), who was also Helen’s partner in writing their doctoral thesis. However, the rest of the black people in the first “Candyman” movie were working-class or poor people from the ghetto.

Brianna and Troy are immersed in the art world. Their late father Gil Cartwright (seen in a flashback and played by Cedric Mays) was an artist. Brianna also mentions at one point in the movie that up until Troy started dating Grady, Troy had a pattern of dating European artists. The movie shows what often happens when black people have to navigate in an industry dominated by white people, some who are often racially condescending, racially insensitive or downright racist when it comes to judging people who aren’t white.

The snooty art critic Finley Stephens (played by Rebecca Spence) represents this entitled mindset of white supremacy. When she first sees Anthony’s at installation at the gallery, she dismisses it as mediocre and trite depictions of racial injustice, possibly because what she sees in the art installation makes her uncomfortable. But when certain murders happen and start to be linked to the Candyman legend, Anthony’s art gets a lot of media attention.

And suddenly, Finley changes her tune. She praises Anthony for being a visionary and arranges to interview him for an article. It’s an example of how some white people who are media influencers only seem to care about up-and-coming black artists when those artists are getting attention from media outlets that have a mostly white audience. When Finley interviews Anthony, more of her racial condescension is on display.

“Candyman” is a visually compelling movie that makes use of shadow puppetry to tell parts of the Candyman story. It’s a better alternative than using live actors to re-enact the racist violence that’s in the movie. DaCosta brings a confident tone to her horror storytelling, which remains grounded in realism, even as supernatural occurrences are happening around the characters. The first “Candyman” movie had some over-the-top hokey moments, but the 2021 “Candyman” movie never lets you forget that racist violence is a real-life horror story for too many people.

There are also some gruesome but realistic-looking visual effects and makeup, especially when Anthony’s bee sting turns into an alarming infection that spreads through his right arm and beyond. Musically, the 2021 “Candyman” movie score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (also known as Lichens) skillfully builds off of Philip Glass’ memorable score for the 1992 “Candyman,” including Glass’ haunting piano refrain that has become the franchise’s musical signature. Violence and gore are expected, but they aren’t gratuitous or exploitative in the 2021 “Candyman” movie. The point of the movie is to show that racism and revenge for racist crimes create a vicious cycle where there are no real winners.

The casting of this “Candyman” film is top-notch. The result is acting that is superior to the average horror movie. Everyone plays their roles well, with Abdul-Mateen, Domingo and Stewart-Jarrett as particular standouts. But realistically, no one in this cast is going to be nominated for Oscars because the acting isn’t Oscar-caliber. And this “Candyman” movie could have had more speaking roles for Asians and Hispanics.

The plot starts to get a little messy in the last 20 minutes of the film. Now that viewers know that several people could be Candyman, there could be an untold number of “Candyman” sequels. However, future “Candyman” sequels are better served by limiting the Candyman character to being depicted by just one person per movie and giving that person an interesting character arc. Otherwise, too many Candymen in a movie can spoil the story.

Universal Pictures will release “Candyman” in U.S. cinemas on August 27, 2021.

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