Characters unpredictable, unsettling, but compelling

Hard Candy: 103 minutes, Rating: R,
Director: David Slade, Starring: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page. 

Hard CandyThe opening scene of Hard Candy takes us inside an Internet chat room where ‘Thongggirl14’ and ‘Lensman319’ are exchanging lines of flirtatious text. ‘Lensman319’ is 32-year-old photographer Jeff, and ‘Thongggirl14’ is schoolgirl Hayley, who claims to be far more mature than her 14 years. It’s an unsettling beginning to this highly disturbing film. There are no hesitations in the chatting between the pair, despite each knowing the age of the other.

After organising a rendezvous at a café and meeting in the flesh, their flirtation continues in the awkward way which one would expect between an adult and a child. Hard Candy is such an uncomfortable film to watch. There are more violent scenes to come later in the story, but for me it was this seduction and the feigned innocence of both Hayley and Jeff that was the most stomach churning. Before too long, the two are back at Jeff’s house in the secluded hills. After more flirting, one of the characters is drugged, tied up, and held at the point of a scalpel.

Hard CandyHard Candy is written by playwright Brian Nelson, who based the story on true events which took place in Japan, where a group of young girls would find men on the Internet, before beating and robbing them after meeting them in person. Nelson’s screenplay is a study of preconceived notions of gender and audience’s prejudices to think along these lines. Hayley and Jeff both cross lines that are not often approached in cinema. Their characters fake innocence but show they are increasingly capable of manipulation and violence.

Neither character is sympathetic, their motivations are constantly unclear and their behaviour is pathological. Yet they are exciting characters, the kind that are not often seen in films being made today. Unlike so many thrillers that follow a predictable formula, Hard Candy is a film where the audience can never tell what will happen next or how far the characters will go.

Hard CandyDavid Slade deserves much credit for filming what is essentially a stage play in an interesting manner. His cinematography and editing are highly stylised yet don’t detract from the actors at all. Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page both deliver intensely strong performances, particularly 17-year-old Page, who fluctuates between an innocent girl out of her depth and a vicious predator seeking revenge.

Hard Candy is a confronting film. It has been given the strongest rating by the Office of Film and Literature Classification—not for anything graphic, but for its implications of violence and authentic horror. So this isn’t a good choice for a relaxing night out at the cinema. If you are tired of watching predictable characters on screen then this is definitely a film for you. Hard Candy is compelling viewing.



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