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» 411mania.com DVD Review - Hard Candy

posted by Chad Webb on October 6, 2006

The Film

Rated R for disturbing violent and aberrant sexual content involving a teen, and for language.

Both positive and negative factors come out of Hard Candy being an independent film. For one thing, this incredibly potent film could not have turned out so marvelously if not for the determination and drive of its relatively unknown cast and crew. On the other hand, it is a shame that not nearly enough people will get a chance to see such a courageous piece of cinema. Movies such as Hard Candy and One Hour Photo mark the type of horror that Hollywood should be concentrating on, instead of the excessive amount of Japanese horror remakes. From the birth of the idea, to the finished product, this overlooked jewel was made with hands that wanted get the audience thinking, and that’s important.

Hard Candy falls under the category of films where it is very difficult to explain the plot without spoiling something, but I’ll do my best. 14 year old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) has been talking to Jeff (Patrick Wilson) for a good amount of time online. After they decide to meet in person at a local coffee shop, they have no trouble striking up a conversation right away. What is Jeff up to though? He is significantly older than her, but he is buying her T-shirts? The two exchange a couple of flirtatious moments, but things really get interesting when they go back to Jeff’s house. Hayley and Jeff gulp down some screwdrivers, take a tour of the house, and chat about Jeff’s studio. Jeff thought Hayley was a sweet and innocent young girl at first, but after suddenly passing out, and waking up tied to a chair, he quickly discovers that Hayley’s true objective is to relentlessly expose Jeff’s shocking secrets.

Besides Sandra Oh, who gives a delightful minor supporting role as a nearby neighbor, there are only two performances that need to be analyzed. Ellen Page had not yet appeared in X-Men III: The Last Stand at this point in her career, but with this potent and powerful performance, she has proven to be an incredible young actress worth watching in the future. She never misses a beat, and is totally convincing in every scene. She is a skinny, short haired girl, who is completely dominant over Jeff. She has each and every angle covered. Comparing her to villains from dozens of past action flicks would be kind of fun. She is more believably methodical, sharp, and witty than many characters. Is she a villain? That is the ultimate question of Hard Candy. Who is good and who is bad? While the torture progresses, Hayley is persistently composed, and shows little stress. However, she is human, and not invincible. Watching her spotlessly recite each line is mesmerizing.

As much as I adored Ellen’s performance, I would have to give a slight edge to Patrick Wilson. From the very scene in which we meet Jeff Kohlver, we despise his actions. It is apparent that he should not be meeting with girls of Hayley’s age, especially under circumstances such as this. However, at no point does Wilson portray Jeff as a low life bastard. He acts in a way that adds to the mystery of the characters and story. Viewers will be unsure of who to root for. That is attributed to Mr. Wilson. He is riveting to watch. As almost an enigma, he executes all the crucial sequences brilliantly. These two display incontestable chemistry together. Clearly, they both wanted to prove themselves, and in that goal, they succeeded.

The conversations the two have are what draw the audience in. This is definitely a controversial subject matter, but screenwriter Brian Nelson is astoundingly graceful in conveying precisely what matters the most. The topic of discussion is unfortunately the films primary flaw. It can be a bit strong for certain folks to endure, and that is understandable. It is only natural that some people will be instantly turned off when realizing that this is about pedophilia. On a random side note, “Hard Candy” the slang term means underage girl.

Hard Candy was not just brought stunningly brought to life by the cast, but by Director David Slade, who did wondrous work in just 18 days. Sure, luck factored into the process, and the rest of crew contributed fabulous work in colorization, music, and costuming, but for the most part Slade was careful and cautious, yet smooth and rapid with each assessment. The lighting, the vibrant colors, and the unbelievable set design all create the eerie atmosphere of Jeff’s house. The score by Harry Escott and Molly Nyman is minimal, but valuable when heard. Slade was normally a music video director prior to making this; hence one must compliment him solely on the fact that he jumped from Stone Temple Pilots videos to a film about pedophilia. He is gutsy, determined, and impressive in this debut.

I did not have a problem with Hard Candy consisting mainly of talking. In that aspect, I commend it. It works effectively as both an adept psychological thriller, and a subdued horror film. This is a true example of a wonderful thought provoking film. It leaves numerous questions, but that is the beauty of the plot. This topic had never been explored as it was here. It never goes over the top, or steps past any line. I found this to be an unflinching, provocative, and intoxicating horror thriller that should remain powerful in repeated viewings.

The Audio

The audio portion of the disc provides two Dolby Digital tracks, one in 5.1, and the other in 2.0. The dialogue was extremely clear, with absolutely no distortion. The sound exhibited a great deal of depth throughout the presentation. The slice of the medical tools, the sound of the Hayley’s tazer, and even the strike of each keyboard letter is nice and distinct. In addition, the music and background noise were mixed suitably. Also included are subtitles in English and Spanish which look fine.

The Video

Director David Slade must be pleased with how the picture turned out because it is the prize of the disc. All the colors, from the deep blacks, vibrant reds, to the energetic yellows are all beautifully realized and balanced all the way through. I can't think of any complaints with this transfer. I noticed no grain or soft areas at all. This was presented in its original widescreen ratio of 2.35:1. Slade explains that decision in the extras.

The Extras

Commentary with Director David Slade and Writer Brian Nelson - The first track was very informative and enlightening to various aspects of the filmmaking process. Slade is a heavy talker, so there is never a dull moment here. The comments cover a broad range of topics, including material they did not have time to do. There are very few gaps with no discussion, and overall this was highly entertaining to listen to.

Commentary with Actors Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson - Normally, commentary tracks with only actors involved can be somewhat boring because they usually only have a certain amount to say, but this is one exception. They chat about certain scenes that were challenging to film, and even portions of the filming development like the title shots, locations, and so on. Both tracks were great.

Creating “Hard Candy” (51:47) – This was much longer than I expected, and it shows that the crew did their very best to bring fans and newcomers a wonderful DVD experience. This is you basic “making of” feature, but a tad deeper than most. It shows interviews with Producer David Higgins, Screenwriter Brian Nelson, Director David Slade, the cast, and more. It is divided into various parts, but it covers the beginning of the idea, to the premiere, and box office results. They fill us in on little pieces of info like how scared studios were to buy it, and Ellen Page being perfect for the part expect for her bald head at the time. This was extremely fun and detailed to watch.

Controversial Confection (9:21) – This is a short featurette that basically discusses the topic at hand. They talk about the variety of reactions given, and that they were well aware of how touchy the subject was, but they wished to distort it in a way so moviegoers would still go to see it. They also hint on the stimulating ending.

Deleted/Extended Scenes - Most of these sequences, whether extended or deleted, were adjusted for a reason. Not one scene really adds or subtracts any points from the final rating. The first one is called “First Email” (1:43), which is a different angle of the first scene. Secondly is “Hayley Reads Janelle’s Letter” (1:59), which is only an extended scene. Third, is “Hayley Calls Home” (1:49), and the title explains itself. The next scene has a long title, which is “Jeff Tied to Table, Hayley Questions Him About Donna Mauer” (2:26). I actually enjoyed this, but can understand why it was cut. Following that is “Numb Nuts” (1:23), which wasn’t needed, and lastly is “Shaving” (1:36).

Theatrical Trailer (2:24) – This trailer was actually nominated for a couple awards at the Golden Trailer awards, and it is obvious why. They did a fabulous job at not revealing too much information, yet still leaving people intrigued.

Also From Lionsgate - To no surprise, buyers are treated to some previews of past and present releases such as See No Evil, An American Haunting, Stephen King’s Desperation, and Are You Scared.

The Film: 8.5/10.0
The Audio: 8.0/10.0
The Video: 9.0/10.0
The Extras: 8.0/10.0

The 411: This DVD had just about everything one could hope for in an independent film such as this. The menu and packaging could have been slightly improved I suppose, but that is nitpicking. Hard Candy is a excellent horror thriller that is engaging, absorbing, and compelling as a movie experience. The performances are terrific, the direction was top notch, and the extras are pleasing. To some, this subject might be hard to delve into, but I urge all moviegoers to give this a chance. It is all skillfully handled.

Final Score: 8.0 [ Very Good ]

Source: www.411mania.com

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