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Hard Candy. 2005. Directed by David Slade. Screenplay by Brian Nelson.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Odessa Rae, and G.J. Echternkamp. Vulcan Productions.
Rated R. 104 minutes.
Even 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 Ellen 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 (Ellen 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.
I’m always going online to see what people are saying about a film, whether I like it or not. When I review, I take into account the ideas of others. What I 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. I mean, there are men who stick up for the character of Jeff. Really? He full-on admits to at least being there while Donna Mauer – the girl we’re meant to suspect him of killing according to Hayley. It’s actually insane how many people – all men – I’ve seen defending him, saying he didn’t deserve what she’d done. She never ACTUALLY cut his balls off, she only psychologically tortured him. She never forced him to walk off that roof in the end, she merely presented him with all the possibilities.
So anyone who tries to say Hayley had no proof? I’m not sure if 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? I mean, the whole kicker is she’s already gone through this with the other man involved in the death of Donna Mauer. If people can’t pay attention to films enough to figure out the clearly demarcated premise, then I don’t think they ought to be online or anywhere else criticizing the film for perceived faults. Again, yes, vigilantism is not right, I agree. However, it is a film. Are you really so against women that you’re siding with a FICTIONAL PAEDOPHILE? Oh my. 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. Like I said earlier, there is 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. However, after Hayley finds the pictures in his safe – a line is drawn in the sand. Then he becomes this despicable guy because 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 awhile, then creepy. Mostly he works well with Page and acts appropriately terrified, vulnerable, and angered when necessary. One of his best, in my books. Up there with his performance in another excellent film Little Children.
Then there’s Ellen Page. What a sweet east coast Canadian treasure this lady is. I know she’s done some bigger stuff, such as Inception and more recently X-Men: Days of Future Past. All the same, I dig her most in the smaller indie films she’s been a part of like this and An American Crime. Even further, I loved when she was on the old Trailer Park Boys episodes as Jim Lahey’s daughter Treena.
She feels a lot like a more classically trained actor than some other young females in films these days. Not sure why that is, I don’t mean she’s necessarily got a stage-like presence, it’s just that even at seventeen (four years older than her character in the film) there’s an incredibly big life to her acting. This movie could have easily faltered because of the main performances. There aren’t many teenage actors I honestly find impressive; so sue me. In opposition to that, one or two come along now and then and really make me pay attention to a film. Page, particularly in this film, gives one of those performances. Holding her own next to Wilson throughout some savagely intense scenes, in a film concerning highly controversial subject matter, it’s a feat to enjoy. She pulls her 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. However, 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 I’d not noticed until listening to some commentary on the DVD. Furthermore, I 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 I need to mention is the sound design and the score. What I mean is that 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. I always find it interesting when a film can cultivate a great mood and atmosphere with little to no music. Impressive, as I’m always partial to a good score composed with care. However, Hard Candy does well enough without. I feel in that sense it’s very much 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 work from. Successfully this film works with barely no music at all and effectively conveys a brilliant tone.
I’m most comfortable in saying this is a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. There’s a little missing, in the sense I could’ve used maybe a more visual storytelling than what we ended up with, but part of that comes from the simplistic script and the fact they kept the budget under $1-million in order to keep the studio out of big decisions. Either way, I think perhaps this could’ve used a little dialogue stripped for parts and some more of David Slade’s slick looking visuals in its place. I don’t know. I’m just a lowly writer.
Either way, I think this is a fantastic and gripping piece of work. Even without a ton of visual extravagance, which there’s at least a little of anyways, 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!