Hard Candy is a 2006 thriller directed by David Slade. As impressive as it is, this was actually Slade’s first feature film, with him primarily directing music videos prior to Hard Candy. The film stars Ellen Page as a 14-year-old named Hayley and Patrick Wilson as a 32-year-old photographer named Jeff. Taking place primarily in Jeff’s house, the film takes a darker turn from what is originally expected from the opening few scenes.
You can tell right off the bat that something is amiss in the situation. The film opens off with flirtatious e-mails between two people on an internet chat room. The two agree to meet up at a local coffee shop. We are then introduced to our two leads. Still, something seems wrong with the situation. Soon after meeting, the two agree to go back to Jeff’s house. After a while, Jeff ends up tied in a chair, while Hayley has dropped the shy, innocent look she had earlier. You now begin to see that this isn’t just some romance story between two lovers who have to wait 4 more years before they can be together. This is a revenge flick flipping the usual male dominance on its head.
In case the title of the film didn’t clue you in (it didn’t for me), the film’s central theme is actually pedophilia. Touching on a taboo topic isn’t all the film does. That is the primary focus. It doesn’t just get brushed over or mentioned—that is actually where the film dwells. Whether this was to get some extra attention or to state a message is not clear. What is clear is that Hard Candy does not dance around the subject; it takes it on head-on. Surprising, it isn’t actually a graphic film. It deals more with subtlety than anything else, leaving a lot to the imagination of its audience.
There is one scene in particular that seems to go on for about ten minutes, which will leave almost any male watching it feel incredibly uncomfortable. What’s amazing about that scene is that it, like the rest of the movie, is dialogue heavy. The actual “event” takes a good deal of time to get to. Even during and after, the characters are still taking shots at one another, with Hayley dishing out far more than she receives.
Hard Candy certainly isn’t a film that is looking to make it easy on you.
The acting is definitely what holds a film like Hard Candy together. Both Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson give believable performances. The film really is a two person show, and most of the film is actually carried out by the dialogue between the two characters. This actually allows for a few comical moments, that everyone might not get, but I certainly took pleasure in them. When a film focuses so much on a subject matter that makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable, those slight pauses between scenes of tension certainly stand out. These breaks in the tension, plus the fact that each actor did their job quite well, definitely made the movie.
And yet, despite the fact that each character is believable, neither of them really are characters you can root on. Jeff is an implied pedophile, while Hayley is essentially a vindictive little girl. She is played well, but the way her character is written leaves you not wanting to root her on in her quest for revenge. Even at the end, when one line explains her entire motivations, you feel a little bit of hatred towards her for what she has done throughout the film. Both characters are also portrayed as pathological liars. They continually tell lies to one another, so often in fact that you are never really sure if anything either character says is the truth.
Hard Candy certainly isn’t a film that is looking to make it easy on you. It’s not really a film that is difficult to understand, or will make you think. It is a solid revenge flick about a girl attempting to toy with and teach a lesson to a suspected pedophile. Hard Candy does not dance around that subject matter, and instead faces it head on. The acting is top-notch, and although none of the characters are ones you want to root for, that doesn’t really detract from the way the film tells its story. Although dialogue driven, it manages to keep up the thriller mentality by keeping the audience engaged and tense at the same time. It’s a film all about making the audience uncomfortable, and in that regard, it succeeds in almost every way.
Conclusion: Hard Candy is a tough-to-watch film, but it’s a good one.
Recommendation: Hard Candy doesn’t dance around its subject matter, and if you’re okay with that, give it a watch.