Hard Candy Reviews
But just as erotic thrillers like Fifty Shades of Grey often oversell their rauchiness to disguise how tame they really are, so films about sexual abuse (at least in the English-speaking world) have been decidedly hands-off for some time. Not every piece of media about such a difficult and delicate subject matter has to be as contentious and uncomfortable as BrassEye, but the likes of Catfish and Trust are ultimately very sensitive, well-behaved affairs, which approach their subject in a manner which avoids causing offence but often at the expense of saying anything significant. It takes a great deal of bravery and intelligence to make a film which tackles this extremely tough subject in a manner which is both nuanced and brutally honest - and that is where Hard Candy comes in.
When Hard Candy first came out, a lot of the analysis focussed on the visual imagery of the characters, which had been played up in the marketing. The posters for the film made it out to be a modern-day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, with Ellen Page's Red Riding Hood going after Patrick Wilson's Big Bad Wolf. The Japanese website for the film even used the tagline: "Red Hood traps the Wolf in his own game".
It's been widely documented since then that the allusion to the fairy tale was largely a coincidence; Hayley's red hooded sweatshirt was not premeditated symbolism, and the creative team merely seized upon the opportunity. It's also arguable that trying to reduce Hard Candy down to 'merely' being a fairy tale belies the psychological depth which it exhibits. But it should still be said that horror films and crime thrillers often incorporate elements of the story, or ones similar to it, to create empathy with a diminutive protagonist. The ne plus ultra of this technique is The Silence of the Lambs, in which Red Riding Hood (Clarice) has to use one Big Bad Wolf (Lector) to catch a bigger, badder one (Buffalo Bill).
In the great pantheon of horror-thrillers with fairy tale elements, Hard Candy is in some respects a close cousin of Freeway, an under-seen mid-1990s effort which gave an early break to Reese Witherspoon. As well as the arguments about the shared Little Red Riding Hood heritage, both Matthew Bright and David Slade make use of the low-budget, independent aesthetic to bring out the edgy qualities of their respective stories. The washed-out colour palettes and handheld camerawork with tight close-ups put us uncomfortably close to the characters, forcing us to confront their every flaw and spot their every tell.
The visuals of Hard Candy are very carefully orchestrated to reflect the subtle shifts in the character dynamic, something which prevents this intimate two-hander from ever becoming stagey. Jo Willems, who later shot The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, does a very fine job, but the real credit should go to his digital colourist, Jean-Clement Sorret. The film was shot with the characters being slightly over-lit, and after shooting was completed, Sorret went through the film frame-by-frame, turning down the frequencies in scenes where Hayley felt threatened or angry. Aside from Roger Deakins' painstaking colour correction on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, such a meticulous approach was unprecedented, and it pays off, creating a
startling, creeping claustrophobia which leaves us gasping for breath.
The single biggest strength of Hard Candy is that it constantly forces us to question the moral authority of both parties, particularly Ellen Page's character. Had the script been any weaker, or the direction any less steadfast, the film would have quickly descended into a nasty little revenge thriller - I Spit On Your Grave by proxy, as it were. Given the evidence which is stacked against Jeff, we're not exactly rooting for him, but we don't support Hayley unconditionally, particularly as more details about her methods and motivation come to light. The film wants to explore how each party justifies or defends their actions, how morally warped the whole situation is, and what we would do if put in the same situation.
In doing so, the film manages to tackle both the horrible crime of child sexual abuse and address the hysteria and culture of vigilantism which has sprung up as a result of it. Slade does a great job with Jeff of showing us a banal, normal exterior with something deeply sinister buried just beneath. Jeff's initial scenes are similar to those with the villain in The Vanishing: they both seem normal to the point of boring, even though what they are doing is increasingly unspeakable. Jeff's pictures are shot in an almost Kubrickian manner, with the sheer whites, subtle reds and smooth camera angles being a possible reference to the long, slow corridor shots in The Shining.
Hard Candy pulls an equally good deception on us with Hayley. Page's first few scenes are very naturalistic; you don't get the sense, either in the online conversations or the first encounter in the cafe, of someone consciously pretending or repressing something to hide their true intentions. It's only once the screwdrivers have been downed and the screen goes blurry that the visage starts to crack, and we understand with horror what kind of driven, ruthless monster lies beneath. Page has always had a gift for managing to play distant characters while still making us care about them; here we are simultaneouly perturbed by her matter-of-fact moments and drawn to her impulsive, moralistic outbursts.
Many horror films which accrue the kind of reputation that Hard Candy enjoys often do so because of the reputation of a given sequence. Sometimes, as with the chest-burster in Alien, the sequence in question is burned so strongly into the public's consciousness that it feels unwittedly like a set-piece; critical reaction can turn just another line of dialogue into a patch of purple prose, often against the writer or director's intentions. It's therefore gratifying that Slade manages to avoid that trap here, cooking up a sequence which is truly horrifying yet part of a continuous whole.
The castration scene in Hard Candy is at turns gruesome, nerve-jangling, chilling and a brilliant piece of misdirection. Despite appearing to just exploit some base, simple fear (i.e. the loss of one's genitals), it also brings out the metaphor behind this action, just as any decent horror film should. If you want to see this scene on the simplest level - a paedophile getting what many may feel he deserves - you can do so, but the film shoots it so slowly and clinically that it produces no joy or feeling of vindication. This slow pace lets the implications come to the fore - the symbolic loss of male power and agency, the consequences of the vigilante following through on their dark desires, and what it says about the human condition in general. If nothing else, it's handled more assuredly and with clearer artistic intentions than the scissors sequence in Lars von Trier's Antichrist.
Much of the plaudits for the performances have rightly focussed on Ellen Page. Two years before her mainstream breakthrough in Juno, this was the role which announced her as one of the most promising acting talents of her generation. But for all her convincing and frightening intensity, it would all be for very little without the support of Patrick Wilson, whose collapse into blind fear, panic and despair is utterly gripping. It's a pity in hindsight that Wilson's career hasn't achieved the same level of success, discounting the heavily flawed Watchmen and the perplexingly overpraised The Conjuring.
Hard Candy is a gripping, thrilling and chilling calling card for both its major stars and its director on debut. Despite a slightly shaky ending, in terms of both content and pacing, it manages to serve up both shocks and substance to do justice to its tricky subject matter. It is testament to the notion that an issue can be graphically explored without exploiting it, and even the most taboo of notions can be approached if great care is taken. If nothing else, it's a great benchmark for modern horror and thriller filmakers which will stand the test of time.
The first maybe half hour the film is an exercise in trying to not squirm out of your skin. Page being tiny and cute and looking a lot longer than she actually is in real life really makes you forget that she's playing a 14 year old and isn't actually one. You feel just wrong watching how her and Wilson interact at first. You're afraid of where this is going to go and then Hayley changes before your eyes. Hayley is by no means an innocent and she is out for blood.
You would think you'd be firmly on Hayley's side of things, but you can't help but go back and forth just based on the absolutely horrifying situations Jeff is put in (one rather infamous scene in particular which I will not spoil if you haven't seen it). I'd still say I'm for sure spiritually with Hailey but dang.
It's wonderfully acted, extremely claustrophobic, and the tension is first rate. The only reason it doesn't rate higher is the believably of certain things. The fact that Hayley is, allegedly, an honours student can't be an explanation for everything. Sorry.
Hayley, a teenage girl, played by Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) agrees to meet a thirty something year old, played by Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, The Conjuring), who is a fashion photographer. The two met in an online chat room, and the encounter of a predator meets the prey makes for an interesting story. But, as the film goes on, we ask ourselves who is the predator, and who is the prey? The film builds up some pretty good tension. I believe, that from the first scene, the viewer automatically feels uncomfortable. We really do get a fluster of nerves in our gut, from that opening scene. We do not know what to expect, and as the film goes on it becomes an interesting concept of cat and mouse. This one film really is a mixed bag of different genres in one movie. We get a drama, thriller, horror, mystery, and a psychological thriller. This is a good example of different genres mixing together, to tell one good story.
This movie may have a simple premise, but it's gigantic on great performances. After seeing Ellen Page in this, and seeing her in other films, such as Juno. I believe Ellen Page is not only a great actress now, but will be a great actress for years and years to come. She plays the role so well, and honestly I found her quite scary. For instance, there is one scene, where it involves Jeff tied to a steel table, with his genitals on ice, and Hayley saying she will castrate him (you do the math). Ellen Page is literally Jigsaw from the Saw horror movies, when it comes to Patrick Wilson's balls. Even though that may sound pleasing to some people, Ellen Page's performance had me gasping, sweating, and frightened.
Even though there are not a lot of locations throughout this film, they make the best of the one location. I like how in Jeff's home, the pictures he had on his walls from his fashion photography work, kinda said something about his possible personality. If you really look at them. Similarly, there is a scene in the movie at 1 hour and 20 minute mark. Where Hayley is hanging up a picture, of a young woman looking at a window. However, the window is covered by curtains. I personally take that as, maybe the character Hayley wants a way out, to see the truth in front of her, but can't.
So these are my final Bitchin' Buddha thoughts on the film Hard Candy. Hard Candy is good nail biting film. That really has you pulled in from the very first scene. The film is very dialogue heavy. Meaning if you are the kind of person who isn't into a lot of characters talking, and more about characters doing, this film may not be for you. Personally, I didn't mind all the talk between the characters. I believe Hard Candy earns a..
3.5 / 5
Thank you for reading and viewing, and I hope you all have an amazing day as always. :)
Today we live in a world where everyone has access to the Internet, even children at the age of five will have access to a laptop or iPad. Whilst some may shrug at this and not see the harms of having access to the Internet, others know that the Internet does hold some horrors. Trolls. Cyber bullying. But one of the worst has to be sexual predators, using social media to target vulnerable teenagers and children. Everyone has heard of the horror stories of meeting people from the Internet, and a tragic minority have lived through it.
Hard Candy is a film that shows you the horrors of sexual predators from the Internet at the very start with a conversation online from 'Thonggrrrl14' and 'Lensman319'. The two arrange to meet up and then we see fourteen year-old Hayley Stark (played brilliantly by Ellen Page) and thirty-two year-old Jeff Kohlver (played by Patrick Wilson, who as well gives a good performance). The scene that is played out is disturbing realistic of how a first meeting would go between the predator and the young girl. Wilson's character makes sexual references in their conversations, seemingly has a lot in common with the young girl which we know isn't true at all, tells her she is very mature for her age and finishes it with buying Page's character a shirt that she likes and then suggests she should 'model' for him with the shirt. Even though Hayley makes numerous references to her age throughout the conversation, Jeff still takes her back to his home. Thus begins the films story, where the audience begins to question themselves on who is the victim in this tale and who is the monster.
Let it be known that this review contains spoilers from the film, so to avoid that, skip straight to the 'Overall Review' segment of this review.
This is Ellen Page's movie, as in she is the star who never loses her spotlight in this movie. From start to finish, you are held captive by Ellen Page's performance, never once thinking about Wilson or his character. The audience is always thinking of questions such as, 'Who is Harley?', 'What's her backstory?', 'Why is she doing this?' or 'What is Harley going to do next?'. Only half of those questions are answered, just to let you know. It is unfortunate for Wilson as his character never gets to shine through. Despite the good acting, he just couldn't steal a scene away from Page. To be honest, I don't believe they are few or any other actors that could have stolen this movie from Page if they were cast in Wilson's role. She is truly the heart of this film and this is definitely one of the best performances by the actress. Also, she was nineteen when this was shot. That was the sound of your mind exploding by the way.
Not only is the performance strong, but the writing for Page's character is spot-on with its statements, which some are both haunting yet memorable. My top three would be Page's first speech on how an adult should respond to a child who is flirtatious, the part where Page repeatedly whispers the word 'stop' to a tied up Patrick Wilson as though she was a victim of sexual assault and at the end, when Wilson asks her who she is, she responds by saying she is ever little girl that he (Wilson's character and to all predators) has watched, touched, hurt, screwed or killed.
Now why I can't give enough praise to how spectacularly written Page's character was, I can not say that the same was done for Wilson's character. Jeff constantly denies he is a paedophile or had any involvement with the disappearance of another young girl. If this was done to convince the audience that he is innocent and Hayley is just a psycho, then it did not succeed. Jeff knew that Hayley was fourteen yet took her home and gave her alcohol despite her age. I was waiting for the punishment by the time the pair entered his home. If you are aware that the person you meet is underage, you do not continue the date. I knew Jeff wasn't innocent from the start. At most, the audience may believe this to be a one off, that he made a mistake and he will learn from this. But then Hayley finds a photo of the missing girl in his safe. All mystery on whether he was involved or not in the missing girl's disappearance had disappeared just like her. I felt Wilson performed his hardest and was shown in the castration scene (I was nearly sweating watching this scene, but not as much as Wilson).
Another bad feature of this film is the shaky cam that occurred whenever there was an action scene. Shaky cam only works in 'Found-Footage' films and even then I will still complain that all it does is make the audience and myself nauseous and irritated.
THE OVERALL REVIEW
Minus shaky cam and unfair character writing, this film is a must see for any thriller and/or indie lover. Ellen Page fans will grin and cheer as she torments the suspect, whether or not if he is guilty. But most importantly, it's message towards sexual predators and its warning to those who plan to meet anyone online is echoed into their minds and will surely not be forgotten.