HARD CANDY (2006)
Starring Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Odessa Rae and Gilbert Johns.
Screenplay by Brian Nelson.
Directed by David Slade.
Distributed by Lions Gate Pictures. 105 minutes. Rated R.
Hard Candy has an extremely disturbing, but all too common, start. A thirtyish man (Patrick Wilson) who works as a photographer meets a fourteen-year-young girl (Ellen Page) on the internet. They hook up for coffee, she goes back to his place to hear some music and see his photography equipment. He lets her have liquor, they flirt a bit, she offers to allow him to photograph her.
However, as Hard Candy shows, sometimes who exactly is the predator in a relationship is not as obvious as you would assume. The young girl drugs his drink and he awakes tied to his office chair as she rants to him about being a pervert and how she is going to expose his sins.
The movie puts you into the somewhat morally questionable position of having to feel sympathy for a man who appears to be a pedophile. In his encounter with the girl, he skirts the edges of the law and decency without actually going over the line (well, he does with the liquor), but at the very least he has made some very sleazy, questionable decisions. As the film goes on and you do learn more and more the depths of his depravities, however, they are extracted by a young woman who seems equally disturbed.
Hard Candy is not really interested in trying to understand his sick compulsion and what makes him tick, like Kevin Bacon’s much subtler and yet still very disturbing The Woodsman. Hard Candy is much more of a modern horror film – a Misery or Fatal Attraction for the internet porn era.
Nor does it really explore her motivations. Beyond the obvious, why did she assign herself guardian angel? She may or may not be the friend of a little girl who disappeared after meeting with the photographer. In the early scenes, it almost does seem like she is entrapping him somewhat, committing a catalogue of actions that pedophiles use as excuses. However, like she says, that is no excuse, she is fourteen years old, after all. Or is she? While it is never explicitly said or even hinted, she does certainly act older than she claims to be.
It is a truly horrifying tale, played out almost entirely by the two actors (there are three other characters who appear in the entirety of the movie, and they only have one brief scene apiece.) And the acting is stunning. Page is by turns sweetly innocent and coldly evil playing a role which could have easily been one-dimensional and clichéd. Wilson sells his character well enough that we do want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is as innocent as he claims, until finally we can’t ignore the weight of the evidence.
Hard Candy is not an easy movie to watch. In the end, both of the main characters are repugnant, in totally different ways. It is a fascinating and scary film, though – opening a window on an area of life that most of us would never want to peer into. (9/06)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 26, 2006.