by Bud Carlson, posted on Sunday, April 16, 2006 23:32:54|
Well kiddies, sometimes things like this happen. Not all that often, but when it does, its quite the conundrum. You start a movie with just a couple of characters, interesting and appealing people really. They start out by putting themselves into a situation where, as viewers of the movie, we feel uncomfortable with whats going on up on the screen. Then the plot twists, and rather than having things get better and the discomfort stop, it just gets worse. And then the plot twists again, and pretty soon youre so uncomfortable as a viewer that youre just praying that something happens to make the pain go away. But they never let you off the hook. Sounds like fun, right?
Thats exactly what Hard Candy is all about. Seems 12-year-old Hayley (played by Ellen Page) has been visiting internet chatrooms, and has caught the attention of Geoff (played by Patrick Wilson), a 30-something fashion photographer of some renown. [Creepy, right?] They agree to meet at a local diner an hour later. In the diner, we the viewer see Hayley for the first time, and shes this small, cute, but very very young-looking girl. She looks like shes maybe in middle school. Geoff approaches her right away, with his quiet charm in full effect. [We know this cant be good.] The two hit it off right away, with Geoffs good looks and sophistications seeming to draw Hayleys bright-eyed admiration. They agree to go back to Geoffs house for a photo session, plus whatever else may develop. Meanwhile, we the audience can see that Geoff is up to no good. [Squirm in your seat.] They get back to his place, and he gets them both a glass of water. But she wont drink it, opting instead to mix screwdrivers for each of them. [Shift, wiggle, squirm. This chair isnt comfortable anymore.] At this point, we the audience can just see the travesty thats about to take place, and we wait uncomfortably for David Slade or Brian Nelson (the director and screenwriter respectively) to do something to make this stop. Were thinking to ourselves, theyre not actually going to show this, are they? And we wait, and wait some more, but it seems nothing is going to stop this from happening.
Ah, but now for the first plot twist. While Geoff is shooting pictures of his way-too-young dates strip-tease on his couch, he begins to feel woozy, his vision blurs, and he passes out. Seems Hayleys not quite as innocent as she appeared. Thank god, we think in the audience; the filmmakers finally bailed us out of that creepy statutory-rape scene we were headed for.
But not so fast, my friends, weve got a whole new ballgame on our hands. When he wakes up, Geoff finds himself expertly bound to a chair in his living room, and Hayley has an agenda for him. We begin to wiggle and squirm anew, as we learn the nature of Hayleys intentions for Geoff, and the techniques that she is willing to use against him to achieve her objectives. But ladies and gentlemen, you have only just begun to squirm, as it gets really really really uncomfortable for the audience before this movie is finished.
So heres the conundrum for this reviewer: On one hand, this isnt a pleasant movie. In fact, I dare say that it has been a long time since I was that uncomfortable in any situation, let alone a movie screening. So uncomfortable that I was wishing I could be anywhere but there, watching this. So how can I recommend this movie to you, if I wanted so desperately not to be there?
On the other hand, however, Im quite sure that this is the whole point of the movie. Slade and Nelson want us to be this uncomfortable. They are dealing with some seriously horrible subject matter here, some really dramatic violence, and they want to freak us out. Well guess what, they did. They have found all the right buttons to push, and rather than just pushing them, they lean on them and refuse to let go.
And oh, by the way, Ellen Page is the real deal. She was absolutely fantastic in this movie: smart, sassy, strong, intense, and unrelenting. She scared the shit out of me.
So look, this movie is challenging. It is unpleasant and uncomfortable, a little like a cleaning with the scraper at the dentists office. But it is extremely effective, accomplishing exactly what it hopes to. The ending was a little weak, lacking the intensity of the rest of the movie, but by then I was just thankful they were letting me up for air.