Directed by David Slade, 2005
Hard Candy is not strictly a horror film, but it will mess you up more than any genre movie you’ll see this year and is thus deserving of a spot on this here horror site. If all you know about the film is what you’ve seen from the trailer, you’ll expect to see a pedophile photographer who picks up a pre-teen he meets off the internet, but soon finds said pre-teen isn’t exactly what he thought she was, and you’d probably think you’d have it all figured out.
And you’d be right, for the most part. But regardless of what you expect to happen going into it, your notions will be shattered pretty promptly. Don’t get me wrong, this is a concept movie. The only reason this movie exists is because you can pitch its entire plot in one line. And yet even if you see the power struggle between Jeff, the pedophile, and Hayley, the 14 year old girl, coming from a mile away, it will still carve its path deep into you every step of the way.
I’m not going to say anything of the plot or characters other than what I’ve already said, but Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson deserve mountains of attention for their talents here. Page, who was only 17 at the time of filming, gives one of the most vulnerable performances in some time. It’s captivating. And Wilson. Man, his delivery during the…let’s just call it ‘the snipping scene’…is frightening in its realism. They both play off each other with a profound resonance, which is really one of the strongest pillars of the film.
The second would be David Slade’s direction, which is stylish without being flashy or self-fulfilling. The production design is appropriately spartan, so all of the focus is on the two actors (there are only 5 in the entire thing). It’s a helluva challenge to keep two people visually interesting for 103 minutes, but Slade does it in stride.
The script certainly could spark intense on-line privacy debate among its watchers, but for my money it isn’t as controversial as it thinks it is. It’s a boundary pusher simply because the boundaries of pedophilia don’t get pushed off in film (independent or not), but it’s not like you’ll be shocked dumb. But I’m not the greatest barometer of what pushes the limit.
However, it is remarkably intense at all the right moments. The aforementioned ‘snipping scene’ is possibly one of the most torterous scenes I’ve seen in a while. It runs laps around anything in either Saw or Hostel, two films which are based entirely on such violence. And there are barely any drops of blood in the entire thing! Eat it, Roth!
The script also does a masterful job of constantly changing your perception of the two characters. As soon as you fully side with Hayley it throws some sympathy on Jeff, but then it slides back again, over and over. But it doesn’t ever trick you with a barrage of mindless twists, which I admire.
I’m reviewing this a little late (close to 3 weeks after seeing it), so your chances of catching it in the theater are pretty slim, but it’s definitely worth seeing on DVD at some point. Hard Candy will work you over something fierce and spit you back out covered in a moderately depressing funk. That may not be the most enticing recommendation ever, but it gets my endorsement nonetheless. It’s great, great filmmaking even if you come out the other side feeling a little violated.