Patrick Wilson - Jeff Kohlver
Ellen Page - Hayley Stark
Sandra Oh - Judy Tokuda
Jennifer Holmes - Janelle Rogers
Year - 2005
Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4
Ever since the internet was created in the early 1990s, it has done a lot of great things to change the world into what it is today. We can read the news in a matter of seconds, watch television shows that we may have missed by streaming them online, and meet people from all over the world who may become our bestest friends for life. But with every good, it must be countered with a bad.
Pedophilia has become a lot stronger and much more difficult to prevent due to the invent of online chat rooms where people can hide behind phony profiles, only to bait young naive people into their devious and sick web. New laws have been created to stop this. Sex offenders now have to wear that label every time they apply for jobs or move into a new neighborhood. Even NBC capitalized on it with their extremely popular DATELINE series, TO CATCH A PREDATOR. But not all of it has helped and pedophiles are still getting away with their crimes.
But what if someone turned the upper hand and personally decided to take the law into their own hands? No, I'm not talking about a Jodie Foster film. I'm talking about HARD CANDY, a thrilling film starring Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page from 2005. Thanks to this film, I'm glad I'm only interested in women over 21 because I'll be damned if I have to live through what Patrick Wilson's character went through.
In Los Angeles, a 32-year-old photographer named Jeff (Patrick Wilson) meets up with a 14-year-old girl named Hayley (Ellen Page) at a coffee shop after talking to her over the internet. Jeff is very successful, seems like a decent guy, and doesn't show he has any ill intentions for Hayley. Hayley is very smart and mature for her age, enjoying teasing Jeff with her words and her young body at times. Taking a really uncomfortable liking to each other, Hayley convinces Jeff to take her to his home as she wants to model for him.
Jeff lets Hayley look around his house and drink alcohol, getting to know each other better. Hayley makes sure to serve her own drinks because she doesn't totally trust strangers, while offering Jeff something to drink as well. Hayley decides to pose for Jeff, but it upsets him to the point where he passes out. After some time, Jeff wakes up tied to a roll-away chair while Hayley taunts him. Apparently Hayley drugged Jeff's drink to teach him a lesson about pedophilia that he'll never forget. I know I won't!
HARD CANDY is one of those films that lingers in your psyche even after it's over. You know what you think and what you want to say about it, but you still have trouble finding the words to express it. This is truly a horror film - a film that will definitely creep you out because it's so damn realistic and could possibly happen in any town at any time. I actually felt uncomfortable watching this and that hasn't happened to me since I saw I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE a few months ago.
It made me question the people I chat with or have chatted with online. Now I like to think that I pretty much know who they are and are generally good people in nature, but do we actually know that about each other for sure? The internet is like a masquerade ball, where we can disguise ourselves into whatever persona we want others to believe we are and act them out for our own amusement. Especially in chat rooms, where we can give people a false sense of hope and trust while taking advantage of that for our own personal reasons. But how do we know the people we talk to aren't maniacs? Or stalkers? Or someone we know and wants revenge on us? We don't and that's pretty scary. Luckily I've never had that problem and have met very cool people online. But not all of us have shared that luxury.
This film was just unnerving to watch from beginning to end. Especially since this film is mainly about two characters that make you question yourself and your issues of sympathy and justice. While Jeff is the predator and Hayley is the victim on paper, the film completely turns that around and makes us question if that's the case. You're manipulated the entire way with Hayley's quest to punish this pedophile for a crime he may or may not have committed to some missing girl that he knew, wondering if she's doing the right thing and why you feel more sorry for Jeff than you do for Hayley. It makes you question yourself and will be a subject of self-debate and debating with your peers because the answer is never black and white. It doesn't help that the story is pretty much in-your-face, sharp as a blade, and willing to push boundaries that most mainstream films wouldn't have the balls to do. We know Jeff isn't a saint since he obviously wants to get to know Hayley in "that" way. But Hayley's treatment towards Jeff and torturing him to the point where she's almost enjoying it makes her as much of a sociopath as Jeff. Especially the scene where Hayley threatens to do something to Jeff that will make every man who watches this film squirm with terror. She's 14 and knows exactly what she wants to do and actually brought the tools to do it with. While Jeff is the adult, Hayley is the one in full control and I couldn't really sympathize with her actions. I mean yeah, Jeff should be punished for what he may have possibly done to girls, but he didn't really do anything wrong to Hayley. Yet. So I was left with why Hayley would even lure this guy and want to do horrible things to him out of the blue. She even goes to say that she isn't even who she says she is. The whole film is psychologically trippy and you're unable to really pick a side. Which is the lesser of two evils? The guy who may be a pedophile or the girl who may be sociopathic vigilante? The line is never drawn and that makes the film an experience rather than just a regular movie. It's more than just some revenge fantasy yarn.
Director David Slade, who would direct 30 DAYS OF NIGHT after this film, does an incredible job bringing the realism out of a situation that could have been turned incredibly campy and silly if someone less talented had taken the director's helm. But Slade lets you focus on what he wants you to see, and that's the vagueness of the entire situation. Slade makes you feel like a voyeur, forcing you to watch these two characters play a terrible game of cat-and-mouse while making it hard to feel good or bad in the usual sense for any one of them. He doesn't intentionally make Jeff the victim, giving us hints that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He also doesn't intentionally make Hayley the victim either, as she shows glimpses of evil intentions for whatever reason herself. The pacing is extremely good and the stylistic elements [the slow motion, the blurry scenes, and the fast motions and edits that popped up] really made HARD CANDY feel like a music video but with intelligence being the focal point. Slade definitely knew how to heighten the tension and suspense of the story. I also loved how he showed the "scene" without actually showing it visually. Slade let our minds do the work and believe me, it was working overtime. I totally felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic watching this film, which shows the sign of a great direction on the rise.
The acting was phenomenal here to the point that it really conflicted my opinion of the characters. Patrick Wilson, who's done great work in ANGELS IN AMERICA and LITTLE CHILDREN, is just excellent here as victim/villain Jeff. He shows a lot of range, as he gives off a level of evilness even when he's being nice and gentleman-like, but also displays a level of vulnerability and desperation as Hayley torments him. I wanted to hate him for even thinking of disgusting thoughts about a teenage girl, but I also felt bad for him as well for having to go through what he went through. It made me question what kind of person am I for feeling conflicted about this character. Not many actors can pull off what Wilson pulled off. Hopefully WATCHMEN next year will make Wilson the star he deserves to be.
And of course, we have Ellen Page as Hayley. She's one of those characters that is understood, yet misunderstood at the same time. I totally thought she was troubled for doing what she did to Jeff, but at the same time, I can understand her point and where she was coming from. She's a revelation to watch, as she goes from being shy and cute to a downright cold, sarcastic, and scary person as the film rolls along. And it's totally realistic because I bought it ten-fold. She should have been the underdog in the film, but she comes away with it being in total control of the situation at hand. Apparently this is the role that won her the role as JUNO, which officially made Page A-List. Definitely well-earned.
The brilliant acting wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for Brian Nelson's screenplay. The dialogue is just perfect and you totally buy everything that comes out of these people's mouths. It became more black comedy as the film rolled on and I was sold. Nelson was on his A-game here and I could really see this film be a play on stage. Just nicely done.
My only complaint about HARD CANDY would be the dreaded quick ending that doesn't resolve much of anything that the last 100 minutes told us. While there is a payoff, there were still a lot of unanswered questions concerning both characters. Especially Hayley, who pretty much admitted that she wasn't who she said she was. If that's the case, who was she? How did she know Jeff was behind some girl's disappearance? Why did she plan such an elaborate scheme? Was that girl a friend of hers? I mean, it was just like she appeared out of the blue to torment Jeff for crimes she believed he committed. And the film just ends without really showing us the aftermath of everything that went down. Maybe that's the point but it bugged me because I felt that I didn't know enough. Other than that, HARD CANDY is definitely a winner.
THE FINAL HOWL
HARD CANDY is one of those films that really isn't for everyone. While intelligently written and excellently directed and acted, it'll totally make you uncomfortable and question yourself the next time you enter a chat room to chat with that person you just added to your buddy list. This is like Little Red Riding Hood with Riding Hood making sure the Big Bad Wolf doesn't eat anyone's grandma ever again. Compelling, edgy, and fascinatingly cruel, HARD CANDY will definitely make you think and wonder what's right and what's wrong. Is there even such a thing anymore? I'm sure not even Chris Hansen can answer that one.