Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hard Candy (2005)

Hard CandyThe 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 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.

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.

Buy Hard Candy (2005) Now

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, wellacted 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.

Read Best Reviews of Hard Candy (2005) Here

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.

Want Hard Candy (2005) Discount?

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.

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