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Hard Candy Review

By Shawn McKenzie 05/07/2006

With the popularity of instant messaging and sites like MySpace.com, there has been a real concern about pedophiles lurking around the corner and molesting underage girls and boys.  This movie, Hard Candy, is a creepy film about that…but it has a twist that will intrigue you.

In the beginning of the movie, 14-year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page), using the IM name Thonggirrrrl14, chats with 32-year-old fashion photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson), using the IM name Lensman319.  They had been chatting back and forth for weeks, but she suggests meeting in a coffee shop called Nighthawks in Los Angeles for the first time in person.  They flirt for a while, he wipes some chocolate off her lips that she had while eating some chocolate cake, and he buys her a Nighthawks T-shirt.  She tells him that her dad is a medical professor at a university, and he tells her that his profession is taking pictures of teenage models.  She teases him by flashing her bra for him for a second while trying on the T-shirt.  She wonders why a good-looking guy like him needs to meet teenage girls on the Internet, and she playfully warns him that she might be crazy.  He invites her to his house in Hollywood Hills in his Mini-Cooper to check out a live bootleg MP3 of a Goldfrapp concert he has.  When he gets there, he offers her a glass of water, but she tells him that she never accepts a drink that she didn’t pour herself.  She looks at the photos of the scantily clad teenage models, and she asks him how many of these models he has slept with.  He says that he has only slept with one, a girl named Janelle Rogers (Jennifer Holmes), but it was when he was much younger.  She goes into the kitchen and mixes up a couple of screwdrivers, and after handing him his drink, she begs him to take some pictures of her while she does the beginning of a striptease.  He starts to take some pictures of her, but he begins to get dizzy.  He soon blacks out, and when he wakes up, he finds himself tied to a wheeled office chair.  He is confused at first and thinks that this is a playful teenage game she is playing with him.  That flirty teenage girl is suddenly a deadly serious torture master, and she has a specific agenda for him.  One of Hayley’s classmates, Donna Mauer, has gone missing, and she thinks that Jeff might have something to do with Donna’s disappearance.  Hayley has gone around the house and notices that Jeff doesn’t have a single bit of pornography in the house, so she thinks that he only gets his jollies from taking pictures of underage girls.  He corrects her that he also does some environmental photography, but she can’t seem to find them in any of his portfolios (though I don’t that she tried very hard to look for them.)  She is determined to prove that he is a pedophile, and she has a plan to make sure that he never molests another teenage girl again…by performing a castration.  She places a bag of ice on his testicles to numb them, and wearing some scrubs that she borrowed from her dad, she prepares for the procedure.  He pleads with her and tries to convince her not to do it, but she is single-minded in her goal.  Every time he screams out to the neighbors, she sprays bleach in his mouth to shut him up.  As she gets ready to slice off his man-parts, he desperately tries whatever he can to escape…or end up as a eunuch.

Music video director David Slade makes his theatrical directorial debut with this film, using a screenplay written by television writer Brian Nelson (also making his theatrical writing debut.)  I’m always impressed when a new director and writer can start out of the gate with a movie that can be shocking and entertaining…worthy of watercooler discussion (as long as people actually go to see it.)  Slade sets it up so perfectly that it will make audiences (especially men) uncomfortable on purpose.  From the uneasy flirting at the beginning to the torturing of Jeff at the end, you are glued to your seat to see how this movie will play out.

The thing that makes this movie so impressive is the acting.  This is pretty much just a two-person movie, and it takes place in basically just one place, which means that it could conceivably be adapted into a really twisted stage play if someone wanted to produce it.  While I liked the performance of Wilson (actually…it was probably the best performance I have seen him give so far, and that includes his Emmy-nominated performance in HBO’s miniseries “Angels in America”), it was Page that blew me away.  Even though she was actually 17 when she made this movie, she really looked 14, which added to the realism.  When she turns into “bad” Hayley, she is so scary that her performance could be used to frighten away real future pedophiles.  Her credits include mostly Canadian productions, but this movie will give her a big foothold in America.  Her next credit will be as Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat in this month’s X-Men: The Last Stand, but if this movie can stir up some buzz, I would love to see her get some industry awards (chances are she will be lucky to even get an Independent Spirit Award nomination, because Academy Award voters have very short attention spans.)

Slade’s casting of Sandra Oh as a next-door neighbor collecting money for the Girl Scout cookies that her daughter had previously sold Jeff might be the only minor thing I might have a problem with (but it won’t go towards my overall rating.)  It’s not that Oh is a bad actress…quite the opposite.  It’s just that I don’t understand why Slade cast an actress of her stature to play such a short, minor role.  I can’t imagine that it took her more than an hour to film the brief scene.  Maybe Oh just needed gas money or something.

Hard Candy could be thought of as a horror movie, but I think that it could be used more effectively as a warning to any sleazy guys tempted to pick up on 14-year-old girls.  Apparently, some real girls in Japan who turned the tails on some Internet predators inspired Nelson’s screenplay.  I would never advocate using violence against pedophiles (32-year-old men and 14-year-old girls should know better anyway by not hooking up with age inappropriate people), but if this movie can start some dialogue going about people that they meet on the Internet, then there might be less cases of these occurrences happening in real life.

Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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