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Candyman is the Antidote to Bad Political Horror Films

Good horror movies are created on political principles. It makes total sense: such issues that affect people so deeply in life and death are a total source of anxiety and fear. A good creative should explore it through cinematic horror.

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Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Candyman (Photo credit: Universal Pictures)

Candyman’s sequel comes from the mind of Jordan Peele, and it continues the story of the Candyman, an allegory for the gentrification of Chicago neighborhoods. In the original, a white woman researching for her thesis on oral histories of Chicago makes visits to a predominantly Black housing project to ask people about the legend of Candyman, a slave that was brutally killed and now haunts people as a supernatural entity. In all of his actions, Candyman is the embodiment of Black pain.

Born from a racially motivated act of violence and continuing to exist as an urban legend to protect the people displaced by gentrification. When someone comes to use their pain for her own gain, she is haunted by that same pain she ignored.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris in Candyman
(Photo credit: Universal Pictures)

It’s a great film that explores the presence of race in horror films. Of course, there is the widely known joke that if a movie cast has one Black character, they’re going to be the first to die. In this film, the sole white character is haunted alone, while nobody else is affected by it. Based on the way that the trailers have been making the film seem, it is going to move from exploring race to exploring class.

A wealthy Black artist living in a gentrified housing project building decides to do an art gallery piece on the 80s Candyman attacks. He visits another housing project and repeats the actions of the graduate student from the first one. Like her, he is haunted for using the pain of poor people affected by the gentrification that gave him an upscale apartment. These films are tactical about how they use symbolism, and what they define as horror. It approaches a social issue and gives a fully realized message about it.

However, there are many, many half baked political and social issue films that aren’t nearly as enjoyable (or mentally stimulating) a watch:

Antebellum

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Janelle Monáe as Veronica in Antebellum (Photo credit: Lionsgate)

This film came from the studio that produced Get Out and Us by Jordan Peele. He was very outspoken about the fact that he wasn’t personally involved with them and after watching it, I understand why. The first hour of this hour and a half long film takes place on an antebellum-style plantation, showing a plotless clip show of horrific acts of violence. But there are modern devices! What a scary mystery (?). Just kidding. Spoiler: as it turns out, the plantation exists in modern times and racism still exists. They went through a lot of gratuitous violence to deliver that message.

Mother!

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Jennifer Lawrence in Mother!  (Photo credit: Niko Tavernise)

Mother! featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem (doesn’t that sound believable already?) was panned by critics for being convoluted and gratuitously violent (trend alert!). In what was meant to be a horror film about the impact of humans on the environment, with the title “Monster” character’s full name being “Mother Earth,” there was a unique balance of confusion and too on the nose that made from a message that I didn’t understand, but I knew that I was being told it in a patronizing tone. It made me want to be more environmentally conscious so a movie like this couldn’t be made again.

Child’s Play remake

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Chucky Poster (Photo credit: Universal Pictures)

Now we get into a series of films where horror has to do with new technology we’ve grown accustomed to in the Internet age. Although this is a Chucky film, the villain is not the central doll. Instead, it’s Wifi. I understand the idea behind making Wifi evil and the idea of digital interconnection the villain and having it affect a child the most to make a statement about the growing presence of the digital landscape in the lives of younger generations. But that’s just not the real horror of the Internet. It’s not outwardly malicious, it just silently mines your data until the whole world knows that you don’t brush your teeth in the morning.

Unfriended

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(Photo credit: Universal Pictures)

This is similar to Child’s Play in the way that it makes technology evil, only this time the villain is a Skype session possessed by the spirit of a girl that a group of friends made fun of online. Again, sometimes hyperbolic symbolism isn’t good for entertainment.

Spree

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Joe Keery as Kurt Kunkle in Spree (Photo credit: RLJE Films)

Rounding out the list is a film that asks “What would you do to go viral?” Surprise: the central character resorts to murdering people on live stream. This film is a combination of everything that is wrong with all of the previous ones. The message is too vague and overused to give a compelling take on how crazy content creators are, the message is patronizing in how obviously it’s spoon-fed to an audience that it just wants to teach a lesson to, and it desperately hopes that the “timeliness” of its message is going to distract the audience from the fact that it’s a bad movie. And as an added plot point, the main character is a driver for Uber the whole time? The real horror is that while he’s murdering riders in his car, the Uber app doesn’t penalize him.

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