by Brie Beazley|
In the MySpace age, it's always a good idea to be leery about the Internet peeps one decides to meet in real life. This little bit of advice is usually aimed at teenage girls and women, but in director David Slade's masterful Hard Candy, a female revenge flick, it appears that men would do well to exercise some caution too.
Fourteen-year-old Hayley (Canadian actress Ellen Page) is smart and resourceful and has been chatting online with Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a 30-something photographer, for some time. The two finally agree to meet at a coffee shop, where Jeff lustily wipes some chocolate off of Hayley's lips. They talk; Jeff notices a large textbook in Hayley's bag, which she dismisses as nothing; and before long the two are headed to Jeff's house, where he'll presumably photograph her. When they arrive, Jeff offers Hayley a drink, but she tells him she'd never drink something she hadn't mixed herself. So she makes screwdrivers for them before putting on some music and stripping for Jeff, who blacks out.
When Jeff comes to, he's tied to a chair, and Hayley tells him she knows exactly what he is: a pedophile who photographsand screwsadolescent girls. He may have also killed one of them. Hayley plans on doing a bit of preventative maintenance so that no other girls are hurt by him. And if you've paid attention to any of the coverage for this movie, you know what that means: castration. But before Hayley dons her surgical gloves, gets out her medical textbook, and numbs Jeff's family jewels with ice, she mindf**ks him in such a way as to get him to confess to his crimes. And soon Jeff and Hayley are embroiled in a cat-and-mouse game that's equal parts Audition, Fatal Attraction, and Misery.
In the wrong hands, Hard Candy is the type of film that could have become either silly or tasteless. But thanks to Slade, Page, Wilson, and screenwriter Brian Nelson, the movie is always shocking and engrossing, without ever being exploitive. One of the movie's strengths is that there is no wholly sympathetic character. At the same time that you're feeling anxious for Jeff, who at any moment could be castrated, you're thinking that Hayley is totally crazy. And then she'll bring out another revelation about Jeff's sordid past that makes you think he's a total pervert and deserves exactly what Hayley is dishing out. Thus, even the viewer is subjected to the types of mind games the characters are playing: You're just never sure where the film will go next.
Page and Wilson's performances are extraordinary, and it's hard to imagine their roles being played by anyone else. Page, who previously appeared in X-Men: The Last Stand, is especially good; one minute, she's very much a little girl, complete with freckles and a short, boyish haircut, and the next minute she's a flirtatious young women. But then, oops, she's a pissed off grrrl hellbent on avenging Jeff's crimes. It's a star-making performance.
Lions Gate's DVD of Hard Candy is just as good as the movie itself. It includes two commentariesone with Slade and Nelson; the other with Page and Wilsonand they're great, with Page proving herself to be just as smart as her character. Two behind-the-scenes docs are enclosed, with one, "Creating Hard Candy," running almost an hour in length and packed full of anecdotes about the film's production. There are also deleted and extended scenes, the theatrical trailer, and the film's script, which you can access via the DVD-ROM drive on your computer. The film is presented in 16x9 widescreen, with Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 sound. Altogether, it's a fabulous release.
Hard Candy certainly isn't meant for all viewers (men, especially, will be made uneasy by the idea of castration), but if you're looking for an intelligent, tense thriller with some thought-provoking themes, look no farther. Once you've seen it, it will be hard to look at seemingly innocent teenage girls the same way again.
Rating: 3,5 out of 4