by Erin Salvi
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER
I’m not sure that I have ever felt more uncomfortable for 105 minutes straight than when I watched “Hard Candy.” In a good way.
Directed by David Slade, and recently released on DVD, this film will have you squirming in your seat. Still, you won’t be able to look away for a moment—which is a pretty impressive feat for a film that essentially has only two characters and a single setting. Promoted as a drama/thriller, it’s difficult to pin down exactly which genre this movie belongs to, as it is rather unlike any drama or thriller I have ever encountered.
The film begins when a 14-year old girl and a 32-year old photographer who have been chatting on the Internet for three weeks decide to get together in person—already a cause for concern for the viewer. At a coffee shop, they hit it off in person just as much as they did online, and sexual innuendoes begin to crop up on both sides of the conversation. Hayley (Ellen Page) and Jeff (Patrick Wilson) soon decide that they should go back to his place to get to know each other a little better.
Cue the “Lolita”-like plot to take over, right? But it doesn’t. At least, not exactly. While the audience has been tricked into assuming that Jeff is the one with the power in this situation, as he is much older and supposedly more mature, the seemingly vulnerable and naive Hayley has been making plans of her own. Taking Jeff entirely by surprise, she gains complete control in a game of cat and mouse that grows more and more horrifying by the minute and takes the film in a direction far away from that which the beginning seemed to promise.
The script of this film is, in itself, quite a piece of work. It delves into a number of different psychological issues, including what the appeal is of meeting people over the internet and how far someone will go to fulfill a vendetta against another person. Despite the extreme circumstances, the dialogue feels natural, though this may be due in part to the excellent delivery of the actors. Page and Wilson capture these unbalanced characters to perfection. Page’s wide-eyed, innocent face creates an excellent contrast to the vindictive, manipulative young girl Hayley proves herself to be, and Wilson’s transition from a reserved pedophile to a terrified victim is seamless.
Slade’s camerawork also assists in adding to the general uneasy feeling of the film. Close-up shots of the actors’ faces and purposely unsteady, swirling shots of the house help to confuse the viewer as much as the strange and terrifying interactions between Hayley and Jeff do. But this confusion carries a little too much of the film, even to the very end, and the purpose of the movie is difficult to pin down. It implies that it deals with pedophilia, when in fact it is dealing with one girl’s idea of what should be done to pedophiles, which is complicated by the fact that the girl is herself a very disturbed human being. Still, the film is provocative and gripping, and worth watching if only to see Page give such a brutal, masterful performance. Just don’t watch it alone, because this candy is anything but sweet.