The questions posed by Hard Candy may not be as profound as the filmmakers believe, but they are enough to keep us thinking for the length of a movie that deftly uses exploitation to explore exploitation.
Hard Candy is supposed to be another cautionary tale about the dangerous risks of online chat-room dating, but ends up being just another psychological horror flick about pedophilia in which Little Red Riding Hood turns the tables on the wolf.
What we have here is simply a spectacularly unpleasant horror show, or an attempt to out-outrage the trio of poison playwrights I've mentioned. And yet Nelson's imagination thunders away with such demon perversity that I eagerly await his next work.
Hayley and Jeff come across in almost equally repellent measure, their behaviors driven less by organic impulses than by their need to satisfy the script's elaborate series of reversals and counter-reversals.
As Hard Candy moves further and further away from its opening scenes' gripping ambiguity, the frightening conviction Page brings to her role becomes the only thing keeping the film from lurching into sleazy, pulpy camp.
There's a lot more going on here than just a revenge fantasy. These are two fascinating characters, and watching them thrust and parry proves to be as impossible to turn away from as observing a grotesque roadside accident.