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Movie Review: Hard Candy (2005)

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Hard CandyRemaining 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.

The Upside:
Psychological, creepy, mysterious, intriguing, nice twists, and very well acted. Best antagonist I’ve seen this year!
The Downside:
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

Film Stats:
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh
Directed by: David Slade
Writing Credits: Brian Nelson
Release Date: January 2005 (Sundance Film Festival)
Country: USA
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)
Trailer

By Jarvis Mishler, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects

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  • http://bryanmckay.com/blog Bryan McKay

    After reading through your review, I was rather shocked to see you had only given a “C” as your final grade. It seemed as if you had nothing but praise (and high prase at that!) for the film, and I’m not entirely sure where this came from. The two criticisms you leveled at the film in your “downside” section were hardly addressed in the review itself.

    A good review should be in the writing. One shouldn’t rely on a grade or a number of stars to contribute any useful form of criticism. When your entire review seems to contradict your conclusion, it’s hard to understand just what opinion I should be taking from your piece.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/~silverstarhawk Jared

    Excellent review, although the content seems to be significantly more complimentary than the letter that summarizes it. Still, I’ll be looking into this one.

  • Annie

    WARNING….SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE. I have seen this movie – and plan on seeing again this weekend. It is truly a dynamic movie in every aspect. I agree that your review of praises and your final grade are at opposite ends of the spectrum. I do take issue with your comments of Patrick Wilson. He is NOT an unknown in either the film or Broadway world, having been nominated for an Emmy (“Angels in America”) and two Tony’s (“The Full Monty” and “Oklahoma”). He is currently on Broadway in “Barefoot in the Park” and has received praise for his portrayal of Paul. In “Hard Candy” he has been able to show what an incredible actor he really is, what amazing range he has, from the suave, handsome first impression of Jeff, thru the tormented, angry, desperate, and finally pathetic soul that has no other option but to end his life. Compare this to Mr. Wilson’s character of Raoul in the movie version of “Phantom of the Opera”. This movie is magnificently directed by David Slade, with close ups and intriguing use of color and minimal background music so that we, the viewer, are sucked into and mesmerized by everything that is happening on screen. I do agree that Ellen Page is amazing also. She was 17 when this movie was filmed 2 years ago. She will soon be seen in the new “X-Men” movie. It is a movie that will leave the viewer talking about it for days to come. I highly recommend it. My grade is an A+.

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