147 of 181 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2006
The film directed by David Slade and written by Brian Nelson seems disturbing enough for just the subject matter alone, but it's also eerie in how timely it's release has been. With reports of teenage girls becoming victims of internet sexual predators appearing in all types of news media, Hard Candy arrives in the theaters through a limited release to highlight this current trend. Slade and Nelson has created an disturbing and, at times, a very uncomfortable film that shows the many twists and turns that happens when the roles of prey and predator become interchangeable.
There's no denying that Hard Candy aims to put a new twist on the exploitation subgenre of the rape-revenge films that dominated the late 70's and early 80's. Brian Nelson's clearly channeling the influences from such rape-revenge fantasy films like Mastrosimone's Extremities and the very disturbing and exploitive I Spit On Your Grave (Day of the Woman) by Meir Zarchi. From the beginning the audience is shown the set-up of an adult instant messenging another person with the screen name of Thonggrrl14. Thonggrrl14 is in fact a 14 year-old teenage girl named Hayley and the adult on the other end a 32 year-old photographer named Jeff who goes by the screen name Lensman319. Jeff has an unhealthy and disturbing penchant for pubescent girls as the subject of his camera lens.
From their first meeting meeting at a coffee house where Jeff gradually begins a flirtatious conversation with the young Hayley to the point in the first act when he finally convinces her to go back to his house whcih doubles as his studio. There's really no denying the sense of unease that permeates the first act as Hard Candy gradually paints Jeff as the sexual predator that he is. There's no denying the fact that a man of his age should not be flirting and behaving as if the girl across from him is a fully-grown and developed woman of similar age. Hayley also comes across during this first act like a teenage girl dazzled by an older man who treats her older than her real age. It's really a disturbing look at just how easily an adult can seduce a child into doing things they normally shouldn't be doing.
Hayley (played by young Canadian actor Ellen Page) soons shows just how wrong and mistaken Jeff has been in picking her as his new prey. I don't use that word loosely for that is what this film truly is when boiled down to its basic component. A one-on-one three-act play (Brian Nelson's experience as a playwright shows in the stage-like sequences from beginning to end) between a predator and prey. This time around the prey has turned out to be the one who has done the hunting and the consequences on the wanna-be predator that is Jeff leads to a slow and deliberate set-up that looks like something out of Takashi Miike's Audition. Hayley's turning the tables on her stalker shows that girls her age are intelligent enough to know that what Jeff is doing is wrong. Hayley's answer to that is to be the hunter instead and fix Jeff's "problem" through what she calls as "preventive maintenance." What she calls "preventive maintenance" is bound to cause many men in the audience to sit very uncomfortably and wince on more than once occassion.
The acting job done by Ellen Page (balancing her indie work here with a turn as Kitty Pride in the upcoming X3: The Last Stand) is dazzling and really shows her as an up and coming talent that needs to be watched. She was technically 15 year-old when the film was made and already she showed a keen grasp of the script which deals with disturbing topics. There's a scene in Jeff's car as they reach his home where a passing glance of the camera at her face shows not a gullible teenager, but a determined and somewhat oft-kiltered individual who knows what she will be doing in the coming hours will be medieval harsh but in her mind justified. Patrick Wilson (last seen as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera)as Jeff plays the would-be sexual predator admirably. His range of emotions go from outright denials of Hayley's accusations to impotent rage and desperation as his fate is described to him in Miike-like detail by his teenage captor.
If there's a flaw to mar the intense and suffocating atmosphere this stage-like film creates it would be in the script itself. At times the Hayley character becomes a one-note individual whose beyond her years demeenor seemed to cold and rehearsed. I really can't put the blame for this on Ms. Page, but on the writer himself. It seems like Brian Nelson is trying too hard to add twist and turns on the story being told. He seems to enjoy overmuch his ability to tug back and forth on his audiences' emotional investment in the film and the two characters. He actually pulls off the trick of making the sexual predator earn the audiences' sympathy at what is about to be done to him. But instead of continuing on with that tangent and thus putting Hayley on a darker and more sinister light, Nelson backs off and pulls the audience back to wanting physical and emotional destruction to be visited on Jeff. Nelson used to much zig-zagging in making his script look more complicated than it ought to be. A rape-revenge film works best on its most simplest form.
The direction by David Slade (well-known as a music video director) is actually very subdued and deliberate in its pacing. Slade doesn't fall back onto his music video experience with unnecessary quick-cut editing that's plagued his music video director brethren. Slade manages to pull off a very Hitchcockian-style of directing by letting the stage and the actors speak for the scene without much bells and whistles to clutter things. There's a few sequences where he lets the camera film things through one long, continuous take thus adding a sense of realism to the situation developing inside Jeff's home. I was really impressed with Slade's work and looking forward to see what he intends to do to follow-up Hard Candy.
The use of too much twists and turns in the script notwithstanding, Hard Candy is a tour de force piece of suspenseful filmmaking that borders on the great psychological horror films of the 70's. In fact, the subject matter on the screen lends a sense of real horror to the film with its timely release and story. Any parent or adult who knows teenagers who use MySpace.com would think hard about wanting to know more of what their kids are doing on the net. Hard Candy can be brutal at times and almost suffocating at others with little or no levity to break the tension. It's a difficult film to sit through and probably won't be the type of films for some, but just watching the performance by Ellen Page is worthy of the price of a ticket. The subject matter is very adult and straddles the line of what constitute a rated R film and one strictly for adults only. Hard Candy definitely falls on the latter. 8.5/10.
93 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2006
It's safe to say that before the release of the film I was basically foaming at the mouth in anticipation. I don't know what it was that drew me so strongly to it, but there was something about it that just wet my appetite for great cinema.
So, the week came when it was to be released, and Friday rolled around. I went to see it - and left utterly disappointed. I don't know what I expected from the film, from all the press I read I expected simple torture then an end to the film, but what I got, I later realized, was so much more.
The story, although topical to some degree, is at first glance a story of one person wanting to teach another a lesson about the "naughty" things they do, ALA Seven and Saw. But as the film unfolds the true faces are shown, and they're ugly. Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson turn in flawless performances, as they're the only main actors in the film, Sandra Oh plays a small, yet somewhat vital role, and then there's that one guy at the cafe.
The reason I detested this movie was for one simple reason - manipulation. NEVER in my life have I seen a film where my beliefs and feelings concerning the characters has shifted so furiously between one and the other. You sincerely believe that Jeff is an innocent man and that Haley is simply a sociopath. As the story unfolds, if you see the film in the same light as I did, by the end you'll be completely worn out, and left with a feeling of bleakness.
With most recent horror films focusing mainly on the gore aspect, and very little story, albeit one as complex as this, it was incredibly refreshing to see a horror/suspense film that was something that could just possibly top Hitchcock in his finest hour.
A true masterpiece.
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2006
In one of the most beautifully acted films of the year, director David Slade's provocative Hard Candy asks a number of provocative questions: When does the predator become the victim? To what extent is vigilantism justified? And what justifies one person going after such cold-blooded revenge? The film starts out with two anonymous people chatting on the Internet. The repartee is seductive and tantalizing.
Fourteen-year-old doll-like Hayley (Ellen Page) offers to meet the older man Jeff (Patrick Wilson) at a coffee shop, where he wipes chocolate from her lip with his finger and continues the predator's dance. Jeff isn't your stereotypical pedophile; he's young, handsome and sexy, and an upwardly mobile fashion photographer. Jeff buys Hayley a coffee and a shirt and they talk about literature and film whilst she tries the shirt on.
Hayley proves that she's perky and sweet and way bright beyond her years and soon they are heading back to Jeff's secluded, modernist house deep in the Hollywood Hills. He makes her a vodka and orange and offers up an impromptu photo shoot. Pretty soon we realize that there's something not quite right about this scenario.
It turns out that little Hayley isn't as innocent as we thought she was. Without giving too much the plot away, Hayley launches into an unrelenting and sometimes stomach-turning inquest into the older man's secret life as a pervert and a possible murderer. Jeff adamantly denies killing a girl who has recently gone missing, but the innocent Hayley will not be swayed.
What makes this film so spectacular is that when the tables are turned, we as the viewer are forced to rethink our sympathies for the predator and the prey and as the boundaries between the good and the bad guy become blurred, we are left with just these two damaged characters in a claustrophobic house where their dangerous cat and mouse dance is gradually played out.
Although there is a small - and welcome - appearance from the lovely Sandra Ho as a concerned neighbor, much of the movie is just Page and Wilson, each fighting for the upper hand, which gives the film the look of a tense one-act play. Obviously the actors have to be strong in this type of film and really know their characters, luckily both Page and Wilson indeed rise the occasion.
The boyish Page is remarkably confident, as the pixie-faced, scalpel-wielding vigilante and she's really able to imbue the right balance of anger and sympathy. Though Jeff is clearly a sneak and a sleaze from the beginning - he makes no apologies for the fact that he likes little girls and is meeting them on the Web - to his credit Wilson adeptly shades Jeff - giving him a sympathetic and shameful back-story. It's open to question how sleazy he actually is.
Hard Candy is Slick and stylish in its writing, direction and design, and as the psychological thriller it works beautifully, mostly on the strength of powerful performances by Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson. Although many have called this film exploitative, because of its provocative subject - pedophilia, the film is powerful and subversive and raises some serious issues about the psyche of men such as this. This is confrontational filmmaking at its best with a dark, daring and bold heart. Mike Leonard September 06.
55 of 69 people found the following review helpful
I will admit something up front. I am a sucker for a tight, clever script where there is plenty of verbal sparring. Intelligent (might I even say--"thought provoking") drama gets me off. Two of my favorite classics are "The Lion in Winter" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?"--two powerful, but wickedly funny, verbal bloodbaths based on plays. Now I'm not saying "Hard Candy" falls into that league, but it is certainly refreshing to watch an adult film with an actual point-of-view that doesn't dumb itself down for mass consumption.
Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson are both suberb, and there are enough twists and action to keep the viewer guessing through their game of cat-and-mouse. This is a sweet antidote to the usual summer blockbuster--one that will make you think and one that you will remember.
Not to provide a spoiler, but the film does wrap itself up rather tidily--which keeps it from being truly brilliant (I'd actually give it 4 1/2 stars). But I was riveted throughout.
A word of warning, however, I imagine a lot of people might not like this film. But if you are a fan of well-scripted, well- acted drama and open to the subject matter (might be too controversial or even too graphic for some), I'd definitely give this a try. KGHarris, 9/06.
56 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2008
There are movies that haunt you and others that keep you guessing; there are horror flicks and daring mind-benders; there are suspense ridden narratives and atypical treaures: Hard candy is all of the above. The terrible intolerable need to continue watching absorbs and terrifies while you seem disturbed by a need to find a side to root for. The pedophile photographer who may have committed a homicide or the teenager who seems bent on revenge with such hatred you feel for her psychological statae of mind and her emotional integrity while admiring the psychological battle of wits that throws every trick in the book and seemingly confiscates the essence of every psychotic malady the rational rituals of desire have equipped human nature with. Ellen Page is too good to be true and so belligerent in her sympathetic role that you can't stand her. She does what no one at her age has ever been able to do, namely reconcile the taboo of social mores with a nefarious bristling candor that thwarts the desire to continue to watch. She is placed aface Patrick Wilson who performs the role of a pedophile with impenetrable guile and belated predatory pride. He runs the gamut of psycho games and betrays psychobabble while his counterpart frustrates his strategic acumen by outsmarting him to such an extent you wonder as he does: Who is this girl? It gets terrifyiing and tense in a swell of emotional callousness that dumbs the pity elusively ambling in a dialogue that is always disquieted by minds that forage a loot in every chance digression. It is shot with bestirring incision and lavish in its climactic rush. I do not think a movie could be shot with more intensity. Here we see the madness of psychology at its tenderest and it sickens but always concentrates on a suspenseful emotional heap that litters the intelligence of the two parties. Poker face after poker face we experience the insistence of insanity at its most gripping hold, but not the newspaper brand, here we have a mixture of hatred and desire controlled and fashioned by a shooting that ends with the incredible after the impossibly disgusting has been shaved a few times. This movie is an absolutely astonding psychological maze and a social commentary that undoes the sutures of a world where reason is used to abuse and torture, and where justice is a questionable prospect of soulless proportions. Wow.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2007
I tried ages ago to post a lengthy and mostly critical review of this but for whatever reason it never made it up (hmmmmm). So this review is going to be far less detailed because I just don't want to type up all those thoughts over again.
Hard Candy is a really frustrating film because it could have been a great one. The premise is a grabber and the actors are very talented and game, but the problem is that the script just collapses as the movie goes on. The fatal flaw is that the writers suddenly decide about halfway through that Hayley is going to be a genius mastermind figure, instead of the precocious, ambitious, more or less realistic girl she starts out as.
Mastermind figures in suspense movies are useful to writers because they always are one step ahead of everybody else. So they can set up diabolical schemes and traps simply to torment their victims and generate lots of suspense for the audience. Since they know what people will do ahead of time, they know how to stage these traps to maximize drama, to make their victims think they have the upper hand, but they are always in control and pull the rug out from under at the last minute. Why do they do all this? Well, because they are supergenius masterminds and they like to mess with people, to put them through the ringer. Now, an omniscient supergenius in a movie like in Saw, for example, is fine given the limited ambitions of Saw (and don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Saw). But here, in a movie that should have had ambitions to be more than a generic thrill machine, it is just the wrong thing to do and particularly when you are talking about a 14 year old protagonist. And so, the last half of the movie is filled with completely implausible and virtually impossible plot developments all meant just to milk a few more manipulative thrills from the basic set up. Think hard about virtually any of the situations in the second half and ask yourself *why* Jeff or Hayley do certain things and how or why Hayley would bother to orchestrate these narrative events to occur if she knew from the start all the things she is revealed to know at the end. Once you start to question, you realize how completely overengineered the plot twists are.
The bottom line is that the writing is fundamentally lazy and the narrative events stunningly arbitrary, which is a serious disappointment given the potential this idea had.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
There are an awful lot of great movies that have been made about voyeurism, sexual predators, revenge; the careers of Roman Polanski and Michael Haneke among others are testaments to our fascination with the subject. HARD CANDY goes deeper than most into many of these themes, but sadly falls far short of greatness. There's no way I can say anything much about it without significant SPOILERS, so be warned.
Precocious teen Hayley (Ellen Page, quite brilliant) meets much older photographer Jeff (the always excellent Patrick Wilson) in an internet chatroom, and then for real at a coffee shop. It's "meet-cute" with lots of saucy, seductive banter -- mostly on the part of Ellen -- and though it's engagingly filmed (lots of close-ups and interesting cutting in the early scenes, in brightly lit widescreen) it unsettled me, not because of the ickiness factor but because I didn't buy it. I didn't buy for a second that Ellen was going to be a victim, which was fine -- she obviously knows what she's doing, that's believable -- but that led me not to buy that Jeff - who seems just as smart as Ellen, and much more in control of himself than he apparently really is - would go along with it. Is he so wrapped up in his good fortune that he doesn't see her playing him? Perhaps, but the film strives for a lot of realism throughout and this was the first element that didn't work.
When they leave the cafe and head to Jeff's somewhat remote hilltop suburban ranch home, the troubles really begin, both for Jeff who is soon to get more than he could possibly have bargained for, and the viewer, who is treated to a higher level of sadism and a more excruciating, drawn out series of psychological tortures than necessary or perhaps possible. I wonder if the filmmakers were aiming at this point more for the horror film audience than for the serious art-film audience; indeed the whole film seems to be stuck between these two basic kinds of spectators - or notions of spectatorship.
The most serious problem for me, ultimately, is that the film once having demonstrated that Ellen is at least a borderline psychopath herself then lets her off the hook by demonizing Jeff in an entirely unambiguous and exploitational way. The end result is that we are supposed to cheer on Ellen as she completes her horrifying but seemingly righteous plan; some will buy that and love it. I didn't, and the terrific performances and interesting film-making choices did not redeem it. All in all, I'm left with very mixed feelings: on the one hand, there's an intellectual and moral cop-out in the way the characters are handled in the third act; on the other, the visceral outrage and sickening feelings do come through. I don't know whether to recommend this to anyone or not, really - take that as you will.
24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2006
This movie started off well enough.
A 14 year old meets a 32 year old man from the Internet and they arrange for her to go to his house. But when they get there, her sinister motives are revealed.
This storyline had potential at the start, however as the movie progressed I found it to be quite trite. (Spoiler information may be revealed below).
Hayley apparently acts on a belief, which seems a little bit ridiculous. She did not start out with any real proof to begin with and had to rip through the house to get it. What would have happened if Jeff had turned out to be a good guy? What would she have done?
The movie got boring for me after about 30 minutes because Hayley and Jeff prattled on the same topics endlessly. I understand that he's a pervert and she's a sicko, and both of them believe they are in the right. Get to the point, already. We really don't need hundreds of statements about how clever she is and how stupid he is.
Hayley claimed to have done something quite disgusting to Jeff, and later on, he found out that she'd faked it. What was the point of all that, then?
Jeff managed to escape from Hayley at least three or four times, yet every single time he escaped, then he walked back into her trap. How many times did he get knocked out again?
Hayley's plan was ridiculous. After all the fighting where Jeff was tied up and they beat each other up...
She would never be able to get rid of the evidence after that.
An autospy would have identified that there were previously drugs in Jeff's body. Hayley's fingerprints would be all over him. There would be rope burns on various marks of the body, showing that he had been tied up for some time. Not to mention hair, blood and all the other gunk Hayley left lying around. I mean, she was showering there. Come on.
Let's not forget that the neighbour had seen Hayley who told her she'd be there for a couple of days. She'd tell the police about that and provide an accurate profile.
Plus the people at the shopping center who saw them together.
At the end Hayley was on the roof and Joelle was in the house. As far as I can see Hayley had no time to remove the evidence because Jeff was chasing her all over the house. How did she expect to clear up with Joelle right there. Come to think of it, how was she going to get off the roof without anyone seeing her.
E-mails and calls can easily be traced, showing that the 'police calls' were fake.
So, Hayley would never have gotten away. In fact, Jeff didn't even have to kill himself. If he'd finished her off, he could easily remove his side of the evidence and show the police the marks on her body and such. For an "honor student," she was really stupid.
Both characters seemed to be overwhelemingly stupid in the sense that neither one of them knew what they were doing.
A much better ending would be if Jeff had revealed to Hayley that he wasn't alone and have the other guy turn up and finish her off as part of the set up. And it would have been better if he reveals he knew who she was all along.
I got so bored with the long, long conversations that had no point to them, I skipped over a few scenes.
A disappointment all around.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2008
For its relatively short length and somewhat minimalistic setting, "Hard Candy" is a film that contains more depth and complexity than I could ever touch on all of in this review.
The story centers around two main characters, a young girl named Haley (Ellen Page), who meets an older man on the internet (Patrick Wilson, not to be confused with the drummer from Weezer) whom she suspects to be a sexual predator. At first, it appears that she is falling for his act and taking the bait, and as they go back to his house, it is apparent to the viewer that bad things are on the horizon. This is true, but not at all in the way that you'd expect. Haley soon reveals herself to be an extremely angry and vengeful person who was plotting all along to take her deep-seated rage out on this guy. I won't go into the specifics, but things get quite unpleasant for this fellow.
What ensues is a very interesting and horrific ballet between the two, in which you see a dizzying array of different emotional layers in both characters. One of the most brilliant things about this movie is that there is really no designated "hero" or "villian" here, and it's almost like your sympathy is meant to shift from one character to the other. Jeff (the male character) is indeed revealed to be a pretty bad person, but we also see numerous moments in which he appears sympathetic, and you almost feel sorry for him, even knowing what kind of person he really is. Likewise, Haley, while an obviously intelligent person with largely good intentions, is so driven by her vengeance and rage that she frequently comes off as frighteningly psychotic. The lines of "good" and "evil" are so heavily blurred between them at times that there almost seems to be no protagonist at all.
One of the biggest themes, obviously, is the irrational justification of depravity. Haley talks about being disgusted by the ways in which pedophiles attempt to justify their actions, but ironically she is doing the same thing herself. In her own twisted way, she feels that she is doing what has to be done, even though her actions are just as horrific. We see these two characters that are both sick and twisted, albeit in very different ways, and neither can see their own hypocrisy, even if they can recognize it in each other. There is so much more that can be discussed here, but I think I'll leave it at that.
Now it is time to once again praise the incredible Ellen Page. Many know her as the lovable title character in "Juno", but here she proves her amazing versatility with a nearly polar opposite type of performance. Her performance is dark, venomous, and downright bone-chilling, and even with her small and unimposing stature creates a truly terrifying character. But again, she's not a complete monster, and Ellen does an incredible job of bringing many different levels to the character. Likewise, Wilson does the same for Jeff, in the sense that he is never completely a villian or a victim. There is so much complexity to both characters, and both actors do an amazing job of bringing all those different facets together in their respective roles.
The cinematography is awesome as well. David Slade (who more recently did "30 Days of Night") is characteristic for using this sort of jerky camera effect, to give the sequences a sort of nightmarish surrealism. The whole thing almost feels like a frightening dream, and entirely taking place between two characters in a small setting, it is all the more nightmarish.
This is definitely not an easy film to watch, nor is it recommended to the faint of heart, but it is a brilliant examination of the dark side of human nature. Whether you love it hate it, it will definitely stay with you long after it's over.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2008
I do love Ellen Page but for this film you would have to suspend disbelief to a state that just isn't available to me since I got into therapy.
You have to be able to buy that a 14 year old girl is able to first solve the disappearance and murder of another young girl that the police have been unable to solve.
Then that she has the technical abilities to trace the offender, engage him in a ruse that he will buy into and get her into his house whereupon she is able to GHB him, tie him up, foil every escape attempt he makes, crack any and all secret codes he has (so easily it would make an NSA operative envious,) so that she can gather more rock solid incriminating evidence against him then the Green River Killer Task Force, and have a full dossier on his ex-girlfriend all while maintaining a sarcastically witty repartee through the festivities that would make Hannibal Lecter proud.
The Mission Impossible team wishes they were able to have a job go this perfectly.
This movie played well into the media and politician induced panic that the Internet had somehow caused the child molester population to explode to near epidemic proportions but it bares no resemblance to the dark reality of how children are victimized. If you want a "feel good fantasy revenge film" this can probably fit the bill.
Ellen Page is a talented and beautiful woman and will definitely make many great movies in her career, enabling her to look back on this as "just one of those things."