“You know that feeling on a rollercoaster when you’re going up before the first big drop and you’re like, ‘Why did I do this?’” writer/director Nia DaCosta asks. “I love that feeling before a horror film.”
So do we. Of course, we’ll have to wait another year to feel that rollercoaster-esque suspense before DaCosta’s upcoming ‘Candyman,’ her reimagining of the hook-handed spirit of 90s film trilogy lore. The director chatted about the highly anticipated film in a Nightstream Virtual Fireside with journalist Hunter Harris.
The new ‘Candyman,’ co-produced and co-written by Jordan Peele, was originally scheduled to land in theaters this summer, but theater closings due to COVID-19 have caused several release delays. The film has now been pushed to a 2021 release.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore the ways in which ‘Candyman’ is in conversation with 2020, as the fight for civil rights continues. Harris asked about how the horror genre, with films like Peele’s ‘Get Out,’ has become the “default vehicle for discussing racism and racialized violence.” DaCosta described it as bittersweet. “They’re all just a flash in the pan in the grand scheme of things,” she said. On one hand, she sees horror as a great tool to get audiences to go to the theater and receive the message, but it’s too often that studios are only willing to tell Black stories if there is minimal financial risk.
DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ reimagines a 1992 horror classic for our own time and place. She poses a key question: “What is Candyman?” The character himself lies at the core of the film’s cultural weight. “He is literally a vengeful spirit who is born out of racial violence,” DaCosta says. “He is a black man who is lynched by a white lynch mob.” Thus, part of the film’s task is to track the cyclical nature of racialized violence, and depict how it manifests now.
With this context in mind, DaCosta sought to craft a film that both offers entertainment and incites empathy. DaCosta started by switching the original film’s perspective. While the 1992 film focused on a white graduate student named Helen, DaCosta centers her story around a Black visual artist named Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
She follows Anthony and his “psychological descent,” with a healthy dose of body horror and filmmaking flair. To find the proper balance between scary and emotionally effective, DaCosta looked both to the original ‘Candyman’ and other horror classics, namely ‘The Fly,’‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ and ‘The Evil Dead.’
Of the 1992 ‘Candyman,’ DaCosta said, “It feels like this tone poem that also includes terrible murders… It wasn’t about copying the original style, it was about honoring the uniqueness, the idiosyncrasies of the original film.” For DaCosta, that meant committing to her own visual style, no matter the pressures of making a big-budget studio movie. (The ‘Little Woods’ director has also been tapped for the upcoming ‘Captain Marvel’ sequel.)
“There’s a lot of body horror in the movie,” DaCosta said. “I really want to track [Anthony’s] psychological journey physically as well.” She also teased the film’s new riffs on the honeybee imagery of the original film, and a creepy, slow progression of a skin rash. “If someone goes home after watching this movie and looks at their own rash or bump or mosquito bite and is a little more freaked out, then I’ve done my job,” DaCosta joked.
DaCosta clearly relishes in the tricks and scares of horror movies. When asked if she’s a “scaredy cat,” DaCosta responded with a quick “no,” but Harris reminded DaCosta that she’s never said “Candyman” in the mirror 5 times. DaCosta admitted defeat, saying she also stays away from ouija boards.
“I do think there is sort of a Black cultural thing,” Harris said. “We don’t play these games.”
DaCosta agreed: “It just feels like we have enough to worry about.”