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» Choking on Popcorn Review - Hard Candy

by Mariken, published on June 19th, 2006 01:06:34 pm

Written by Brian Nelson, directed by David Slade, and filmed – in sequence – in only 18 days, Hard Candy is about Jeff (a thirty-ish photographer) and Hayley (a fourteen year old girl), who meet up after chat-sessions on the internet. Once they retreat to his house, Hayley turns the tables on Jeff, convinced that he is a paedophile meriting some overdue punishment.

With events taking place in virtually one setting and between just two characters – not to mention a spot of torture – Hard Candy is regularly compared to Takashi Miike’s Audition. In fact Hard Candy is more akin to Polanski’s Death and the Maiden: a confrontation of minds and a battle of wits, with violence that is suggested rather than explicit and without a deliberate horror atmosphere. The power of Hard Candy lies in the fact that it makes you think rather than frightens you, and that for all of its 104 minutes runtime, you are wondering just who is playing who here.

Hayley is determined to wrench the truth out of Jeff, but her actions show that she has made up her mind long before meeting with him and that she is already convinced of his guilt. Hayley’s fortitude is more about justification for her actions than about actual fact-finding. And Jeff may be a dodgy guy, but both Hayley and the audience can never be sure of just how dodgy he truly is. It is never clarified if Jeff is actually guilty of anything, or merely feels guilty for desiring something he knows is wrong. The audience is left to make up their own minds, and opinions will surely vary.

With Jennifer Holmes and Sandra Oh in tiny supporting roles (glorified cameos, really), Hard Candy is carried by Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. Both more than rise to the challenge. Page (X3’s Kitty Pryde), plays a strong-willed Lolita. Although obviously a child, Hayley displays some profoundly adult conduct. One of Hard Candy’s strengths is that it in no way sexualises Hayley’s behaviour; yet in terms of the cruelties she inflicts, her unambiguous intentions and calculated actions are those of a grown-up. Hayley is fully aware of the consequences of her acts, deliberately aiming for those consequences even. Wilson (excellent in Angels in America and underplayed in The Phantom of the Opera) keeps Jeff sympathetic yet ambivalent. Jeff’s intentions are never clear, anything he says and does can be interpreted at least two ways. Wilson keeps the viewer guessing if Jeff is telling the truth (when he conveys a childhood memory, for instance) or just doing anything to escape the degradation Hayley imposes on him. The two actors are fully committed, and have good chemistry (that ever elusive quality, which can never be predicted) between them. Playing off of each other well, Page and Wilson complement one another and become more than the sum of their parts. They make the most of the play-like setting of the film but never overdo it and so preserve credibility.

Hard Candy suggests that, when exposed to extreme circumstances, people become what they are meant to deter from. By holding him over the abyss, Hayley may have created a monster out of a fairly decent guy, and unleashed in herself an inner demon that she’ll not be able to put back into its cage. Hard Candy also raises another point: Jeff clearly has a taste for young – almost pre-adolescent – flesh, but in truth the body-type he sexualises (and the one Hayley deliberately flaunts in front of him) is the physical shape the music-, film- and fashion-industry dictates for men to desire and women to endeavour: the curve-less body of a frail and skinny pre-teen, with small (or implanted) breasts, no hips, no waist and a flat belly. Neither of these points is brought up to justify or explain anything. They are merely touched upon for the audience’s consideration after the credits have rolled.

Well-written script and fine acting aside, Hard Candy is also inventively filmed and very well lit. It alternates bright colours with shadowy footage that is colour-drained, almost black and white. Close-ups give the scenes a claustrophobic feel and black inserts increase the permeating sense of threat. Considering Hard Candy’s setup, it may very well emerge as a play in the (near) future; yet Hard Candy is not a stage play on film. It is a distinctly cinematic experience, and a good one at that.

In short, Hard Candy is not so much horror-fodder as Brain Food. Michelin Star, exquisite Brain Food, deserving of a slow and savouring taste. So do yourself a kindness, make the effort, and dig in.

Source: www.chokingonpopcorn.com

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