Hard Candy review
Strangers should not talk to little girls. When a teenager seeks to expose a man met on the internet as a child molester, the result is a psychological game where neither cat nor mouse play by the rules.
There are plenty of enjoyable films that relish making you feel uncomfortable. A Clockwork Orange, perhaps; I love that crazy film but it’s not exactly feel-good. Or maybe The Magdalene Sisters? Based on true accounts, the film is a harrowing insight into what became of “fallen women” in Ireland, including a scene where girls are forced to stand together naked while being taught to hate their bodies. Example three is, without a doubt, Hard Candy.
The film starts when 14-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page, rhymes with ‘underage’) and 32-year-old photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson, rhymes with ‘don’t go there, son’) meet in a café for the first time after talking online. Hayley (chatty and trusting) goes back with Jeff (charming, generous and creepy) to his place, suspecting he might be a pedophile, and attempts to expose him.
As she says herself, Hayley is a fascinating character; a vigilante striking out against child molesters with a rucksack of improvised weaponry. She is the voice of all girls faced with men like Jeff. Her voice shakes with anger for those girls and with the need for justice. ‘Hard Candy’ is a psychological thrill-ride and you’ll never know Hayley’s exact intentions until the very end, nor indeed who is manipulating and dominating whom.
Jeff is sick and slick all in one. He and Hayley are surprisingly well-matched in their simmering anger, their need for release, and in the dogged pursuit of their goals. Both of them are capable of going to extreme lengths to get what they want. Fourteen year old girl versus fully grown man… How will things turn out?
I’m no expert on directing but I was impressed with what I saw. David Slade kept most of the camera work on Page and Wilson’s faces, isolating them in an almost empty world. It captured every flicker of emotion in beautifully-handled states of vulnerability and threat. The film is atmospheric rather than gory, with a huge build-up of tension and adrenaline.
In the end, ‘Hard Candy’ strips Jeff’s identity down to the bare bones but Hayley is left a mystery. Is her concept of justice really justice? Might more than one kind of predator be stalking the internet? You are left to make your own decisions about the characters and their true natures.
‘Hard Candy’ isn’t as sweet as it sounds. But it’s an intriguing film, and makes a point: no-one ever really scratches beneath the surface of others. If you did, you might not like what you’d find.
Buy Hard Candy on Amazon.
Buy Hard Candy on Amazon.