Hard Candy Review
Written by: jmh314
I am not quite sure I have ever seen a movie so implausible yet so disturbing as the horror/thriller Hard Candy. Considering this film was done by a director with nothing other than music video experience and had a cast of only 5 people who would have thought it would have been one of the most tense and compelling thrillers in the last decade or so? Hard Candy is powerful modern day look at internet predators, then takes the usual scenario and flips the whole things upside. It is a intense look at what may happen if these predators end up becoming the prey and the desperate measures people will take to not own up to their own inner demons. Hard Candy does it for the most part with no blood, no cast, and nothing more than an IKEA showroom. I dont know if I have ever seen a better thriller where a director made so much with so little.
Hard Candy opens up with an internet messenger style conversation between "ThongGirrrl" and "Lensman" or something along those lines. The two have a little bit of sexual innuendo in their messages and somehow end up deciding to meet. When we meet our two messengers, we are introduced to 14 year old Hayley and 32 year old Jeff. Hayley does her best to act older than her age should and thinks she is being sly with Jeff. Jeff acts like he is all surprised at how mature she is yet seems to know a lot about her and who she is. After some banter back and forth Hayley comes up with the idea to go back to his house to listen to a bootlegged song by a band she likes. Jeff by no means tried to shoot down this idea.
Upon arriving at Jeff's house, we learn he is called Lensman because he is a photographer. He has pictures up around his house of very young models he shot which Hayley thinks is weird until she learns this is also his "studio" and is displaying his "portfolio". After turning down a drink for fear it may be drugged, Hayley goes and mixes her and Jeff screwdrivers. She soon begins to convince Jeff to take pictures of her. Just as he gets his camera he falls to the floor unconscious.
Jeff wakes up to find out he has been tied to a chair. Hayley drugged him and is now searching his house for his "dirty little secrets." She keeps asking him to come clean and about the underage models he shoots only to get lies from Jeff. As she begins to uncover more sick details of Jeff's inner demon, Hayley decides she needs to find a way to punish Jeff.
She comes up with several plots as to people she can contact that would ruin his reputation, possibly calling the cops and sending him to jail, or taking matters into her own hands to punish Jeff. One thing is for certain as Hayley become more desperate to expose Jeff, the more dangerous things get. She may be doing all this for "all the girls he's ever hurt or touched" but what if she is wrong about him? Will she turn into the real monster of the two or will she be able to justify punishing Jeff by exposing him? It is a game of cat and mouse as the two try to outwit and out lie each other in order to come out on top with their lives intact.
Hard Candy clocks in at 1 hour 40 minutes and 1 hour 20 minutes of it takes place in Jeff's house with just Hayley and Jeff. It's like watching a play because the sets and characters never change, yet it can tell one hell of a story. This is a film driven by intense acting and an even more intense screenplay. Hayley is played by 19 year old Ellen Page who was innocent yet intense in her role. She could go from shy quite girl one moment to agonizing assailant the next in convincing fashion. She gave Hayley depth by showing she was there for more reasons than just turning the tables on an assailant through her words and expressions.
Patrick Wilson plays Jeff extremely well too. He makes Jeff a character who you want to believe his stories but the more you learn of him the more you despise him. Jeff is a character you develop no sympathy for even when he breaks down in tears and heartbreaking stories. Sometimes your cant tell when he is lying and when he is telling the truth, but you almost dont care if any of it is true anyways. Not to many can create such a character so easy to despise as Patrick Wilson did.
Director David Slade may have found success with his recent release 30 Days of Night, but with his first feature film he did so much more. Hard Candy was Slade's first work outside of music videos and he does it in style. The sets he used are nothing more than elaborate IKEA set ups in a house. It has a super clean feel that helped make me wonder what mysteries were hidden inside this artistic home. Considering his whole film took place in this same house and with only 2 actors, Slade squeezed the life out of every drop of talent and skill he could.
The only thing that holds Hard Candy back is that as the story progresses it become more and more implausible. Some of the things this 14 year old girl plans out are just out of left field and a bit of a stretch. To think this young girl was able to survive attacks from the bigger stronger Jeff and continually incapacitate him seemed a little unrealistic. And as the ending spins further out of control, things just seem to really turn into the far-fetched realm of the unreasonable.
Despite some plot twists that seem almost too preposterous for it's own good, Hard Candy is still a very harrowing look at the world of sexual predators. There is very very little blood but the language and subject matter are profound enough to make this a great adult themed R rated thriller. The performances are amazing and director David Slade paints a visual picture that is styled to be both cheery yet unpleasantly bleak. It is a psychological drama that accomplishes what it sets out to do: disturb and send your mind racing. It is a film that is so intense that I have found two major types of reactions to it: having turned it off in utter disgust or talking about it long after it's over. The only way to figure out your reaction is to watch it and find out.