Hard Candy Review

To understand Hard Candy look no further than its opening titles. Crisp, clean and carefully composed, they mirror the film perfectly. For Hard Candy is a work which knows itself perfectly, knows where its strengths lie and thus never hides away; everything takes place in harsh, strikingly coloured daylight, every facet has been fully considered. Indeed, its psycho-thriller/torture-horror two-hander between a 32-year old man and a 14-year old girl is quite consciously baiting controversy and setting itself up as a “talking point” movie. The cynical work of independent filmmakers desperately seeking out an audience? Thankfully Hard Candy, though flawed, is a little too intelligent for that.

Given screenwriter Brian Nelson’s prior background in theatre, comparisons to David Mamet’s Oleanna shouldn’t be too outrageous. Nelson’s screenplay is one that, initially at least, revolves around control and manipulation, and thankfully David Slade’s direction does too. Yet the makers of Hard Candy’s are also less ultimately contentious than Mamet and geared far more towards polemic; they share the playwright’s obvious joy for the barbed/witty one-liner, but their moral standpoint is much clearer and more pronounced. As you’d expect, they’re never going to genuinely side with a paedophile and as such we can guess where Hard Candy’s narrative will take us, no matter how sharp or intelligent its dialogue. The ups and downs come almost pre-plotted, as it were, and there is certainly no room for any sudden, unexpected twists.

Yet in avoiding the morally dubious Hard Candy causes itself problems as a piece of genre cinema. Traditionally the most interesting films about/involving torture have either stacked up the endurance levels for the viewer (consider the nightmarish escalation which Marilyn Burns must endure in Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chain Saw Massacre) or introduced the element for a shocking, more focussed final act (as with Takashi Miike’s Audition). Approached purely in such a light Hard Candy doesn’t really do either because, firstly, Slade and Nelson seem to have little interest in conventional genre devices even as their efforts quite blatantly flirt with exploitation. And secondly, because they’ve worked themselves into a corner which prevents genuine surprise and thus genre thrills. Ultimately it feels a lot less transgressive than its premise may lead us to expect.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, this is a film that plays better whenever it moves away from the genre standpoints. The opening sequence, in particular, comes with a striking tension as our two leads first meet and, quite openly, flirt with each other. (No doubt it also works better, and teases all the more, if you’re unaware as to where we’re headed.) Indeed, such moments also show off the performances to a far greater extent than those which use them as mere genre tools. We shouldn’t take anything away from Patrick Wilson or Ellen Page, but their predicament perfectly encapsulates Hard Candy’s major flaw. It needs to either fully embrace its dramatic core or the more exploitative dimensions rather than straddling (and thus diluting) the two. The end result is a film which interests throughout without ever truly satisfying.

The Disc

For a film which puts so much into its look (the digital colourist is credited in the opening titles as opposed to final scroll) Hard Candy needs a decent DVD presentation and, indeed, receives one. The original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is maintained and anamorphically enhanced, whilst the colours shine out from the screen just as intended. Edges are sharp and clean, print damage is at an absolute minimum, and the soundtrack is similarly crisp. Available as either DD2.0 or DD5.1, both are as clean as a new film should warrant. It’s the latter which the filmmakers intended, and thus the one to go for, though neither should be described as flawed. Certainly, Hard Candy as a whole is presented just as should be hoped for from the DVD format.

Furthermore, plenty of effort has also been put into the special features content meaning that fans of the film will no doubt be getting a definitive edition. Commentaries by Slade and Nelson and the lead actors respectively are the pick of the crop, though the latter is perhaps the chattier, less focussed of the two. Whereas the first approaches the film with utmost seriousness, discussing its tight schedule and low budget, the second goes for on-set anecdotes and a pointing up of potential plot holes (why, for example, does Wilson park his car on its own on the middle of a rooftop when picking up this young girl?).

Elsewhere the disc also provides a lengthy 52-minute ‘making of’ documentary which takes us from conception to the marketing campaign. And whilst it covers much the same material as the commentaries, it’s also welcome to have such information under succinct, easily accessible chapters. Moreover, it leaves out very little and has a number of intelligent commentators at hand to discuss Hard Candy and its themes. Indeed, their discussion of the more controversial aspects is such that they earn their own featurette, a nine-minute piece entitled ‘Controversial Confection’.

Rounding off the set we also find six deleted/extended scenes totalling just over 10 minutes. Admittedly, there’s nothing major or attention-grabbing here, but their presence is no doubt welcome. As said, they make the package feel that little bit more definitive. Given these pieces, the two commentaries from the major players and the lengthy documentary, is there anything missing?

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