Remaining hyped up on creepy, psychological horror from seeing Silent Hill a week ago, I was intrigued by the plot of a little Independent movie titled Hard Candy. It was the uniqueness of the storyline that drew me to theater and it was the same unique storyline that kept me glued to my seat for the entire film. I am quickly becoming a fan of Lions Gate Films.
In a nutshell, I gathered from the trailer that Hard Candy was a Hitchcock-esque thriller about a 32-year-old man who takes a liking to a 14-year-old girl he meets on the Internet. As it turned out, I was right. However, the trailer also led me to believe that this little thriller included a not so familiar twist. As it turned out, I was right again.
Hard Candy is the story of a professional photographer named Jeff Kohlver and his new acquaintance Hayley Stark, the teenage girl he’s been flirting with online. Jeff is surprised when Hayley asks for a face-to-face meeting so soon, but he still accepts without hesitation. After a few of Jeff’s casual mentions about going back to his place, he’s still surprised when Hayley hastily volunteers. A little more flirting takes place during the short car ride and a little more after arriving at Jeff’s place. It is here, 20 minutes in, that the movie takes a hard left turn. It quickly becomes apparent the Hayley has been planning this “casual encounter” for a very long time. Jeff, the poor bastard, has no idea what he’s gotten himself into…
It was this plot twist that made the movie seem so unique to me. After scanning the official site for the movie, I learned that this was exactly what the producers had in mind. Emanuel Levy writes, “The initial inspiration for Hard Candy was a spate of real-life attacks that took place in Japan. Producer David Higgins read about the cases, in which schoolgirls turned the tables on older men trolling the Internet for underage dates. After one girl established an online relationship with a man, she and her friends would ambush him at a pre-arranged rendezvous. ‘It opened an interesting and different perspective on who was the predator and who was the prey,’ the producer recalls. ‘Then I thought: what if it was just one girl going after Internet predators? I’d never seen a movie about a 14-year-old vigilante do-gooder.” Neither had I Mr. Higgins. Thanks for making the first!
Hard Candy’s unusual plot is driven by its equally unusual leading actors. There are no Colin Farrels or Hillary Duffs here. The movie is helmed by Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page, two almost completely unknown actors. With 99% of the film consisting of interaction solely between Jeff and Hayley, the entire story rests on their performances. And they deliver! Patrick Wilson’s Jeff is at various times tortured, introspective, filled with rage, and pathetic. Yet, it was Ellen Page’s Hayley that was the true surprise. The character of Hayley was believable as everything from an innocent girl to vengeful torturer and everything in between.
The simplistic approach to filmmaking felt like a good choice as well. The entire movie takes place in only three locations. The coffee shop and car ride consist of a mere 20 minutes or so. The movie was not about exotic locales or a hit soundtrack. Every behind-the-scenes decision emphasized this point. Hard Candy is about the battle of wits between two very different moralities. The director’s extensive use of close-ups are a constant reminder of just how personal this story is intended to be.
Hard Candy is an excellent depiction of a mental battle between predator and prey. The movie’s real strength is in the constant confusion over who exactly is predator and who exactly is prey. The film kept me guessing about outcomes and kept me thinking about moral repercussions just as I would expect from any good independent movie. Director David Slade’s film has impressed me a great deal and I am now extremely excited that he will be directing the film adaptation of 30 Days Of Night!
I would recommend Hard Candy to Thriller Fans, Suspense Fans, Hitchcock Fans, and Indie Film connoisseurs. I would not recommended it to delicate types who may find the subject matter too intense or anybody who desires more action and less dialogue from their movies.
Psychological, creepy, mysterious, intriguing, nice twists, and very well acted. Best antagonist I’ve seen this year!
Some of the head games may feel drawn out and slow for some viewers. While the movie is unusual, not enough of it (aside from Ellen Page’s performance) is amazing.
On the Side:
The title comes from Internet slang for an under-aged girl.
Final Grade: C
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh
Directed by: David Slade
Writing Credits: Brian Nelson
Release Date: January 2005 (Sundance Film Festival)
MPAA: Rated R for disturbing violent and aberrant sexual content involving a teen, and for language.
Run Time: 103 min.
Studio: Lion’s Gate (official site)
By Jarvis Mishler, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects