In Hard Candy, sugar is bad for you, and so is Halifax actress Ellen Page|
by Dylan Young, published on April 27th, 2006
I'm a man. Usually, that's pretty immaterial to how I view a film, unless that film includes a scene showing a castration. But there's something so visceral and personal about castration that it slices through the usual distance from which movie watching happens. I imagine it's not unlike how women feel watching cinematic rape - or how they'd feel, at least, if rape hadn't become so lamentably conventional on screen. If it's high time the tables were turned on men, then Hard Candy makes up for lost time by strapping us to it, then dealing a quick snip to our sweetmeats.
Hard Candy is the story of a 14-year-old girl named Hayley, and Jeff, a 30-something fashion photographer. I could add that they met on the Internet, that Hayley is bright beyond her years and that Jeff isn't the kind of guy who needs to trawl the Net for company. I could tell you a lot of things, but who wants to be accused of being a spoiler? That castration is one of the film issues has already been widely publicized. So, you have a teenage girl, a successful coolio, some sense that castration comes into the mix and my assurance that this is one movie you should probably see. Beyond that, we'll see how much I can keep under wraps.
I should add that it's a rough ride. Director David Slade has knotted the elements together with an inquisitor's sick cleverness. The camerawork is fevered, at once overclear and clinical and then super-processed, warped, cartoony and agitated. He tortures his scenes. He brings us too
close to the characters, perches us on them like buzzards aching to pick at the taut over-reflective skin. The closeness is creepy and alienating. And he keeps us in that quiet discomfort from the opening cells to the last.
Ellen Page, the young Haligonian actress who plays Hayley, is the next big thing: Though past credits are paltry (she was on TV in ReGenesis and, according to the IMDB, something called I Downloaded a Ghost) soon she'll be famous as Shadowcat in the upcoming X-Men 3. In Hard Candy, she exerts a performance that verges on transfiguration - so when she greets me over the phone from L.A. I'm startled by the coolness in her voice. She's as self-possessed and expressive as her character, but as a chilling counterpoint, she also speaks with the formal distance of a pro.
"I saw [Hayley] as a girl who was really frustrated about something that was going on in society - something that was being ignored and justified - and was going to do something about it," Page says. "It was just about connecting to her heart."
"Obviously, I don't advocate vigilante justice," she adds. "But I kind of find it symbolically beautiful, her passion. She's extremely intelligent and articulate but also has a very limited amount of life experience. And thus regards the world in very black and white terms."
The energy between Page and Patrick Wilson, who plays Jeff, is so intense that it's hard to imagine that the dynamic was anything but taxing, even for a tough young lady such as Page.
"Patrick's fantastic," Page is quick to say. "He brought so much to this role. It's pretty courageous to take on role like that and then to bring such sympathy to it. It made so much easier to share it with someone so invested."
Still, Hard Candy is rife with elements of sex and violence that won't be to everyone's liking...
"I find it inappropriate when people react to the film morally," says Page. "My view is that the film is amoral. We're not offering a message or answers or making a point. There's a difficult story that's being told. It raises questions but they're ones you'll need to answer for yourself. I feel happy to be part of a film that allows for that."