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Film Review: Hard Candy [Aug. 19th, 2009|02:40 pm]
Young Geoffrey
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Hard Candy is hard viewing — as it should be

Hard candy poster
Hard Candy
Written by Brian Nelson
Directed by David Slade
Starring:
Ellen Page
Patrick Wilson
Released April 14, 2006

Hardy Candy opens with an angled shot of a computer screen, where a flirtatious on-line chat is taking place between Lensman319 and Thonggrrrl14. Before long, we learn that the former is 32-year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) and the latter, 14 year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page. After a brief on-screen exchange and as the camera moves ever-closer to the screen, Hayley types,

          "okay, let's do it
          hook up i mean"

and the viewer knows they're in for some kind of ugly ride.

The camera cuts to a close of a piece of cake being bitten into with a fork and we here Hayley moaning with (almost) an orgasmic pleasure. When at last we see her face, she looks oh so young — and her lower lip is dirtied with chocolate.

Jeff approaches from behind, asks her name and Hayley, embarrassed, says she'd hoped to seem more sophisticated when they met. She asks if he wants some cake and he says yes, then cleans her lip with his thumb.

Page plays Hayley perfectly. Struggling for sophistication beyond her years, a little nervous, maybe even a little scared, but determined not to make a fool of herself.

Despite our knowledge that Kohlver is a 30 year-old man who has been knowingly flirting with that very young girl, Wilson makes him charming, even sympathetic. Maybe he's not a predator, maybe we're simply about to witness the blossoming of an unusual friendship, a la the under-rated 1999 Sarah Polley vehicle Guinevere, an age-gap relationship psycho-drama.

But this is not that kind of movie. No, it's a thriller (I prefer the old-school term, suspense, but that seems to have gone by the way-side) and I give little away by saying so.

By the 10:40 mark, Hayley has agreed to come back to Jeff's place.

The film includes almost no incidental music or sound effects, but the wordless drive to Jeff's very stylish digs is very effectively accompanied by a quietly ominous instrumental.

I don't want to bore you with an extended précis, nor do I want to risk giving away any of the many twists and turns of the plot. Suffice it to say that this movie is a thriller and that it is not another woman-in-the-refrigerator story.

Hard candy

I will say that, not long after Hayley and Jeff have arrived at his place, Hayley has drugged him and he awakens tied into a rolling chair.

And the thriller begins.

By "thriller", I don't mean gore, nor running and chasing and there are no big explosions here. Hard Candy is all about dialogue and suggestion, a battle of wills, not brawn (to be fair, there are a few scenes of physical struggle as well, shot in a low-keyed fashion that is nevertheless incredibly intense.

As in Hitchcock's Rear Window, first-time director David Slade makes the claustrophobic most of a single set and a dialogue-heavy script. There is no cheating here but only a relentless tension that doesn't break until the very end.

And that climax, when it arrives, does so like an unhappy orgasm; not so much a pleasure as it is simply a relief — one can only shout "Oh my god!" at the screen so many times before one is desperate for the ride to be over.

But is it Art?

Paedophilia is a pretty hot topic these days. Children are worried about and protected as never before — at least, as never before in my life-time nor those of my parents. Our instantaneous mass communications system means that a child abducted in Alberta becomes national news, perhaps international, and every incident adds another layer to to the burden of paranoia under which so many of us operate.

But Hard Candy isn't "about" paedophilia any more than it is "about" castration, nor even the psychology of revenge or the morality of vigilante justice.

And neither is it "about" any kind of feminism, except in the most implicit way. Hayley Stark is at no point an object in the film, she is one of two subjects, as fully (or as shallowly — your mileage may vary) realized a character as her antagonist.

David Slade and Brian Nelson seem to properly understand that didactic art is almost invariably bad art. There are no lessons in Hard Candy, no cheap psychology to "explain" the characters.

There is only a story and, when it is done, it is up to the viewer to make sense (or not) of what they have witnessed.

Both principal actors are excellent in their roles and a special nod must be given to Page, who was only 17 when the movie was shot. She is utterly convincing as a preternaturally sophisticated 14 year-old, by turns skittish and implacable, coquettish and naive (and when, at one point late in the proceedings, her plan seems to have come apart, her fear and desperation are almost tangible).

One may quibble that no 14 year-old has as sophisticated a vocabulary as is provided by Nelson, but then again, it's a big world and the variety of human capability is vast; while watching, I had no trouble suspending my disbelief and, in retrospect, I think I still can.

Hard Candy might not (quite) reach the heights of Great Art, but as a thriller, it is as intense and suspenseful a ride as I have encountered in a very long time and one that does not (as is so often the case in an age when "thriller" is too often synonymous with spectacular explosions and/or graphic blood 'n' entrails) insult neither the viewer's rational or their moral intelligence.

Originally posted to Edifice Rex Online

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: jamiewho
2009-08-20 02:51 am (UTC)
Ooh, this sounds interesting. *makes mental note*
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-20 05:19 am (UTC)

An extra word of warning

Quite seriously, if you see it with a boy, be sure it's a boy who is secure. Apparently quite a few walked out of it feeling Very Angry.
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[User Picture]From: geonarcissa
2009-08-20 05:19 am (UTC)
I saw this on tv a while ago and found it intense, disturbing, and compelling. Very interesting review - thanks for posting.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-20 05:23 am (UTC)

TV?!?

Only once in my life have I had cable (when I lived on Catherine Street in Ottawa, come to think of it), when my friend and upstairs neighbour Sonia did the favour of stringing some wire so I could steal share hers.

So when I hear, "I saw this on tv", I think, "They showed that on television!?!?" Of course there isn't really any gore and not much swearing ...

I babble. Thanks for the kind words.
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[User Picture]From: antaura
2009-08-20 03:48 pm (UTC)
I've been meaning to watch this for ages now. Thanks for reminding me about it. :)
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-20 05:40 pm (UTC)

The pleasure is mine

I look forward to find out what you think of it.
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[User Picture]From: jade_noir
2009-08-20 05:21 pm (UTC)

LOVE this movie

but the strange thing is that I have never seen the whole thing
It's one of those many movies which I know the plot to and have seen fragments of and dreamed about.
I'll see the whole thing through later and read your review + comment because I believe that it posses some interesting questions.

Ellen Page is an amazing actress. Have you seen Tracey Fragments yet?
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-20 05:39 pm (UTC)

Re: LOVE this movie

How did you manage to tear yourself away from it once you started? In any case, I'll be interested in learning what you think of the whole thing.

And (not at all coincidentally) I watched The Tracey Fragments last night. Not yet sure what I think of it as a film; I need to watch it again. I'll likely post about it once I have a better handle on it. What did you think of it?

But yes, I think Page is unbelievably good. I hope she has the artistic integrity to avoid getting trapped by the whole Hollywood starlet thing. What the world doesn't need now is a superb actress wasting her talents on more X-Men movies (though I'm sure she loves the money!).
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-08-21 02:17 am (UTC)

4.5/5.0 stars here

I loved this movie. It was a classic psychological film that used very little camera tricks and technology to move the audience. I also loved how he won us over before we found he really was a creep. It was amazing. All praises over here.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-21 02:22 am (UTC)

Re: 4.5/5.0 stars here

For a brief, fleeting moment, I allowed myself the fantasy those stars were for the review and not the movie.

Ahem.

I think I'd forgotten just how effective minimalism can be when used in film. Some of the reviews I've read (after seeing it) talked about how the screen-writer's playwriting experience was evident in that movie. Which is true, I think. But you'd never confuse Hard Candy with being a film of a play; it was a movie.
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-08-21 02:25 am (UTC)

Re: 4.5/5.0 stars here

For the review...the same. Haha. Just because you failed to mention the minimalism!
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-21 02:30 am (UTC)

Re: 4.5/5.0 stars here

Since I've reviewed a couple or three movies, along with some television recently, I've become very aware that my strength lies in talking about the script and not so much the, er, directorial aspects of things.

I was just pleased I was able to reference Hitchcock and Rear Window.
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-08-21 02:32 am (UTC)

Re: 4.5/5.0 stars here

I suppose there are two ways of looking at films. I can't remember if I saw Rear Window, but I know Hitchcock like to pull the same kind of..suspense. Still very creative!
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-21 02:36 am (UTC)

Re: 4.5/5.0 stars here

I haven't seen since I was a teenager, I don't think, but I remember it well. Almost the entire film was set in one room, with Jimmy Stewart in a full-leg cast, watching the apartment across the courtyard through a telescope (he thought he caught his neighbour murdering his wife). Hardly any action, but when it finally happened, man! I was literally on the edge of my seat, as if by getting three inches closer to the screen I might somehow influence the action.

You were right to clout me for neglecting to mention the minimalism; that's fucking good craft.
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-08-21 02:40 am (UTC)

Re: 4.5/5.0 stars here

Gah, then I have seen it! I know Rear Window was the base of many radio shows. I'd wish I remember the titles but there was one story where a guy in a wheelchair (broken leg, the irony!), and he swore he saw a dead person in a rocking chair across the building. Of course Hitchcock and this story trailed off to two different endings, but it was interesting how some directors/writers were always hooked on the inable guy witnessing things outside the window in the '40-50s. :/
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-08-21 07:04 pm (UTC)

Re: 4.5/5.0 stars here

Huh, I had no idea crippled-guy-witnesses-crime as a genre.
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[User Picture]From: strider7901
2009-08-22 02:24 pm (UTC)

Re: 4.5/5.0 stars here

I don't think it's a drama...just something that tends to be reoccurring?
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