A young girl turns the tables on a predatory older man, in Hard Candy, a tense thriller on release in the UK now. Review by Gary Couzens.
“Thonggrrrl” and “Lensman” meet in an Internet chatroom and arrange to meet up for real. Lensman is Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a thirty-two-year-old photographer, while Hayley (Ellen Page) is a mature-looking fourteen. They return to his apartment, but Jeff has a big surprise in store.
That’s about the first twenty minutes of Hard Candy, and I’ll reveal no more of the plot to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say that Hayley is not the naïve victim of a paedophile that she appears to be at first and there’s a medical procedure she’d really like to try out. Given that most of the film is a two-hander in one set (third- and fourth-billed Sandra Oh and Odessa Rae have very brief roles), a lot depends on the acting. Fortunately both Page and Wilson give very fine performances, and Brian Nelson’s script has a lot of quotable lines. David Slade, making his feature debut after many commercials, avoids too many camera tricks: he enhances the claustrophobic feel by shooting much of the film in close-up despite the wider Scope format.
Hard Candy has a long setpiece that has quickly become its main talking point and the main reason for the film’s 18 certificate. The BBFC’s consumer advice (“strong sadistic violence”) is accurate but a little misleading, as most of it takes place just below the lower frameline. Even so, Hard Candy shows that imagination can be much more powerful than graphic special effects. This sequence will have the audience, the men especially, squirming in their seats.
The film has its flaws: it could have shed ten minutes or so in its second half, and the ending is a little predictable. A subplot about a missing girl is a distraction. All the same, Hard Candy is a tight, tense little thriller that does raise questions about the sexualisation of today’s culture, particularly as it effects teenage girls…and how far is too far in reacting to it.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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