by Corey Scales, published on June 11, 2006|
The main beef I have with psychological thrillers these days is that theyre neither. Most require for you to forget any sense of logic or credibility, leaving your brain at the door and hoping that it doesnt end up on eBay after an usher swipes it for some fast cash. Practically none of them are even remotely thrilling, relying on tried-and-true plot devices done too death and better- by former filmmakers.
Last years Clive Owen/Jennifer Anniston train wreck, Derailed, was a prime example of how paint-by-numbers and one-dimensional the films in this genre have become. It also made all those people that begged for a Pitt/Anniston film team-up glad they never got their wish. Basic Instinct 2, the sequel to the 1992 blockbuster that put Sharon Stone on the map, was the cinematic equivalent to that dirty old uncle we all have, trying desperately to shock everyone at family gatherings by flashing your date when she/he goes to the buffet for more bean dip:
Yeah, Uncle Otis, weve all seen Mr. Happy. Now, could you please pull your pants back up before we call the nice folks in white uniforms to take you away again?
And, then theres Hard Candy, from Lions Gate Films. It unfolds as a 32-year-old photographer named Jeff (portrayed by the HBO adaptation of Angels In Americas Patrick Wilson) meets up with a mature, and very precocious, 14-year-old girl, Haley (Ellen Page), who he had been communicating with on the Internet. Theres a flirty chemistry between them even when were witnessing a conversation of theirs via an online instant message, the interaction all the more obviously when theyre finally in the same faux Starbucks café together.
With the promise of being shown Jeffs photography, Haley agrees to accompany him back to his home. In the conventional Hollywood vehicle, this would result in a standard innocent- girl-in-peril vehicle, the threat of the unspeakable happening to her until the diligent/seasoned cop thats almost always portrayed by Morgan Freeman rescues her.
The bifocals-wearing pervert (they always wear glasses. Probably from countless hours looking up kiddie porn online, I guess) gets several caps pumped into his chest just as hes about to assault the screaming young girl, falling through the plate glass window and on to the import vehicle hes been driving several stories below.
Fortunately, none of that happens here. The minute Jeff gets back to his little one-story postmodern house in the suburbs with Haley, the rug is abruptly yanked from under both he and the viewers. It appears that this sweet young nymph is not at all what she seems; shes far more cunning and potentially dangerous than he may or may not- be. What results is one of the most tense cat & mouse games Ive seen since Roman Polanskis Death and the Maiden, another outstanding film about vengeance and psychology.
Haley, who believes Jeff to be a sociopathic pedophile, has an agenda that, despite our growing repulsion toward this possible predator, horrifies even us, as it grows more complicated and brutal. Two of the things that make this gut-punch to the senses so credible are the cast, who make both roles their own and never make you question their authenticity for any second of the films 103 minute running time. Wilson and Page both give performances that the Academy need to acknowledge come next March. Brian Nelsons script is an intricate web that pulls you deeper into its twists, even when they slowly constrict into a noose.
In a move Hitchcock would be proud of, some of the most squeamish details are kept just below our field of vision, letting our imagination doing the rest of the work. Its a razor-sharp morality play about the complexities of the evils people are capable of, even if they never technically- do them outside of their own warped imaginations.
[b]Rating: 3,5 out of 5[b]