HUGE THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
Occasionally a piece of cinema pushes boundaries and hits its audience with issues pertaining to choice, judgement, and morality. These are the type of films that divide audiences and add heated comments to after dinner discussions. One such film in recent memory was THE WOODSMAN, starring Kevin Bacon, a story about a pedophile trying to integrate himself back into normal society after being released from prison. It pushed us beyond our normal comfort level and forced us to view the world in a somewhat more empathetic manner regarding these people (a pretty uncomfortable thing to even think about). And HARD CANDY asks the viewer similar disturbing questions but ping-pongs us back and forth between doubt and certainty about what’s happening between the two main characters.
The story opens with two people in a chat room on the internet, typing suggestive comments to each other. A face-to-face meeting is arranged, and when the two come together it is obvious there are issues here: one is a fourteen-year-old girl named Haley (Ellen Page, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND) and the other is a 32-year-old photographer named Jeff (Patrick Wilson, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, 2004). From the get-go we’re uncomfortable with this meeting, as we know that men in Jeff’s age-range shouldn’t be meddling with a kid. The ante is upped even higher as Haley agrees to go home with Jeff (indeed, she pushes to go home with him). But once at his place, the tables rapidly turn. Haley is a smart and possibly psychotic young girl. As we delve deeper and deeper into the film, we begin to feel that maybe Jeff was setup somehow. And as Haley begins to "knock him down," the audiences allegiances towards her stance are questioned. Should we be cheering for her? Or worried that Jeff may not be a pedophile after all, and may simply be a nice guy?
Time and again the tables get turned, and the viewer is constantly wondering which of these two they should be hoping comes out on top.
This is one of the most intense films I’ve seen in a long time. Not since PSYCHO has this amount of a mental impact been felt. The beginning is somewhat slow to get going and many may feel like this is going to be a cliche-riddled movie. It isn’t. As I sat on the couch, watching in horror as the stakes went higher and higher, my fiancé said, "Honey? You’re squeezing my hand too hard." I hadn’t realized how affected by the movie I’d become until she mentioned this. In fact, several times I held my breath, something that is a cliche in itself, but something I couldn’t help.
The acting and script for Hard Candy are absolutely superlative. Young Ellen Page (who was eighteen at the time but fits well into the role of a fourteen-year-old) delivers the performance of a lifetime. Her intensity, especially during a set of scenes I like to call "The Home Surgery Mutilation," is so creepy, frightening, and sick, that I actually felt nauseous. Patrick Wilson as Jeff is just as impressive, and I felt equally repulsed and worried for him as the minutes ticked by.
The movie isn’t forcefully bloody or grotesque, either. Its success is owed solely to the interactions of the characters and not, necessarily, what they do to each other. Men, be forewarned, you may have nightmares once it's over.
When the flick ended, I felt spent, as if I’d just run a set of mental hurdles. That’s how good this film is.