Hard Candy. 2005. Directed by David Slade. Screenplay by Brian Nelson.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Elliot Page, Sandra Oh, Odessa Rae, and G.J. Echternkamp. Vulcan Productions.
Rated R. 104 minutes.
★★★★1/2Even while I don’t think 30 Days of Night is as great as some believe, there’s still good horror and blood in there. Always fun. That’s not even David Slade’s best work. The stuff he did on Hannibal (particularly these three specific episodes: “Savoureux“, “Ko No Mono“, & “Mizumono“) is masterful in so many ways, the best work he’s done.
As far as his films go, Hard Candy, his debut feature, is most certainly the best. It’s an engaging and definitely disturbing film. The subject matter is extremely edgy and a difficult one for many people to indulge, but I think with Slade’s direction and the screenplay from Brian Nelson the whole thing is handled in an incredible way. This could’ve easily strayed into an actual full on horror with certain directors and writers. Instead this is a tense, raw, thriller held up by two absolutely wonderful performances from Elliot Page and Patrick Wilson.
Hardy Candy begins with an online conversation, obviously between an older man and a younger girl. It’s flirtatious and slightly sexy, clearly very wrong. Afterwards, we watch as the fourteen-year old teenage girl named Hayley Stark (Elliot Page) meets with photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) at a coffee shop. They have casual conversation, though, immediately Jeff initiates physical contact: he wipes chocolate from her lip, licking it off his own fingers.
They go back to his place, where screwdrivers are had; Hayley makes them. She asks if he’ll take her picture, after conversation about his past with young models, but as he begins to shoot some film he becomes dizzy, passing out on the floor.
Once Jeff wakes up, he discovers himself bound to a chair and being interrogated by Hayley. What begins as a simple talk about his possible paedophilia, the fact he might have raped and murdered a young girl, soon boils down to something more vicious.
During a struggle Jeff is knocked out when Hayley chokes him out with plastic wrap across his face. Again he wakes up, bound, yet this time it’s to a table. And he’s got a bag of ice against his balls. Then Hayley explains she’s about to castrate him.
Surprisingly, and unfortunately for him, Jeff’s day and night of horror has only really just begun.
What Father Gore found interesting, mostly funny, is how so many MALE viewers are totally offended by this film. Especially how they’re threatened by the character of Hayley. There are men who stick up for the character of Jeff. It’s actually insane how many people— all men— defend him, saying he didn’t deserve what happens. Hayley never ACTUALLY cut his balls off, she only psychologically tortured him. She never forced him to walk off that roof, she merely presented him with all the possibilities.
So anyone who tries to say Hayley had no proof? Not sure we watched the same film. Not saying vigilantism is the proper way to conduct our lives. We do need law and order at times. However, it’s hard not say “Fuck Jeff” because he’s, by all accounts, a paedophile and he may as well have been the killer. Standing there and watching anyone get killed is a shame. Not to mention the fact he clearly raped her or assaulted her in some sense. He admits to everything, and Hayley reveals to Jeff she already knows who the other half of the duo was concerning Donna’s death. So how can anybody defend this man? It boggles my mind.
Yes, for a certain amount of time it’s meant to be unclear whether or not Jeff is who Hayley claims. But by the finale, it’s pretty god damn clear who Jeff is behind the curtain. Anybody who says otherwise has NOT WATCHED IT. You either fell asleep, or you’re a moron. Sorry, but it’s clear. Jeff confesses – not just under stress of being psychologically tortured by Hayley, he admits with details and confirms everything she already knew.
Did people not SEE the finale? The whole kicker is she’s already gone through this with the other man involved in the death of Donna. If people can’t pay attention to films enough to figure out the clearly demarcated premise, then they ought not be online or anywhere else criticising the film. Again, yes, vigilantism is not right. However, it’s a film. Are you really so against women that you’re siding with a FICTIONAL PAEDOPHILE? What a world. Honestly, if you’re still against this when knowing Jeff confesses at the end, you are strange, sick, and
probably most fucking definitely a misogynist. You don’t have to think she should’ve done what she did, but Hayley is not the character to be disgusted with in the end. Jeff is the one who you owe disgust.The performances themselves are what drive Hard Candy.
First of all, Patrick Wilson does a nice job with such a difficult and unlikeable character, which is impressive. There’s a time during the film where we’re not exactly sure if Jeff is who Hayley claims, so you’re actually wary of believing either of them. After Hayley finds the pictures in his safe, a line’s drawn in the sand. Then he becomes a despicable guy. There’s obviously something terrible in the safe, from the reaction Hayley gives us. After that comes the very hateful part of his personality and instead of being completely done with this character, we still hang in and find ourselves interested.
Right up until the finale, it’s still not totally sure to what extent Jeff is culpable in the disappearance of Donna, so for such a while we’re on the edge, balancing between not liking him and being unsure what’s truly happening. Wilson does an amazing job with the character. He’s charming for a while, then creepy. He works well with Page and acts appropriately terrified and vulnerable when necessary. One of his best roles. Up there with his performance in another excellent film Little Children.Then there’s Elliot Page. What a sweet east coast Canadian treasure! He’s done some bigger stuff, such as Inception and more recently X-Men: Days of Future Past. All the same, Father Gore digs them most in the smaller indie films they’ve been a part of like this and An American Crime. Even further, Elliot was awesome in old Trailer Park Boys episodes as Jim Lahey’s daughter Treena.
Elliot feels like a classically trained actor. Not sure why that is, it’s just that even at seventeen (four years older than their character in the film) there was an incredibly big life to their acting. This movie could have easily faltered because of the main performances. Page gives one of those fearless performances that takes a film to a whole other level. Holding their own next to Wilson throughout some savagely intense scenes, in a film concerning highly controversial subject matter, it’s a feat to enjoy. Elliot pulls his weight every single step of the way and makes Hard Candy all the better for it.With most of this movie taken up by dialogue, there’s not a huge amount of time dedicated to visuals. There are still neat visual aspects to the film. For instance, they went in after the fact and digitally altered some of the colouring. The iconic red hoodie was an afterthought, which was altered, as well as how the colours in the house and in the scenes often reacts to the emotions; such as when Hayley gets angry, colours deepen slightly at times. Very interesting stuff not noticed until listening to commentary on the DVD. Love that whole allusion to the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” in that Hayley is the girl who has turned the tables on the nasty wolf.
Another aspect worthy of mention is the sound design and the score. There’s barely any score or soundtrack, save for a bit of music played momentarily at Jeff’s house. Most of the sound design is made up of heavy breathing noises and other ambient sounds. It’s always interesting when a film can cultivate a great mood and atmosphere with little to no music. Hard Candy feels similar to a stage play in that it relies solely on the setting and the characters, as well as the people performing those characters and the script they’re working off. This film successfully works with barely no music at all and effectively conveys a brilliant tone.A fantastic and gripping piece of work. Even without a ton of visual extravagance, which there’s at least a little of anyway, Hard Candy is a tense work of thriller cinema. If you’re looking for something challenging and extremely limit testing, this is the one for you. Not only that, there are two near perfect performances from two talented actors.
See this soon when you’re in the mood for a psychological workout.