Reviewed by Jennie Kermode|
When 32-year-old photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson) meets eager 14-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page) in a cyber cafe, events quickly escalate, apparently beyond the girl's control. Soon, they're back at his place, cocktails are being consumed and Hayley is stripping off for a photoshoot. But Jeff is not the only one with an ulterior motive. Unexpectedly passing out, he awakens to find himself tied to a chair. Hayley is looking for information about a girl who disappeared from the same location and she's prepared to go to considerable lengths to get it.
Building confidently upon its central twist, Hard Candy is a strong two-hander, stagy by nature but nevertheless making effective use of the cinematic medium. Its similarity to Ariel Dorfman's Death And The Maiden invites unfavourable comparisons, but for the most part it stands up well. The urgent dialogue and continual motion of the characters grip the viewer's attention, even during those parts of the plot where the outcome is a little too easy to predict.
Audience sympathy is nicely balanced between the two, with the sheer horror of what is happening to Jeff inviting pity even as the case for his defence grows weaker and we learn more unsavoury things about him.
If the film has a major weakness, it is that we never get to learn much about Hayley. All the emotional weight on her side comes from a set of issues, rather than an involving display of emotion. She's just a little too confident to really engage, although this is by no means the fault of Page, who turns in a thoroughly convincing performance. The chemistry between the actors is intense, adding a powerful edge to early scenes of flirtation and later scenes of violence. It is this that really makes the movie work.
Despite the subject matter, which most viewers will approach with their minds made up, Hard Candy does a fairly good job of exploring the moral issues surrounding vigilante action, losing its way only toward the end with a twee speech, which might easily be made by a teenager.
Hayley's red hooded jacket is also a step too far and cannot help but recall shrewder handling of these issues in Nicole Kassel's The Woodsman. Nevertheless, this is an extremely accomplished piece of filmmaking, hard-hitting and intelligent and deserving of a wide audience.
Rating: 4 out of 5