by Simon Savory, published on June 5, 2006 |
"Was I born a cute, vindictive little bitch, or does society make me that way?"
This is the question, posed by a fourteen year old teenager no less, which will have you scratching your scalp with intense irritation as the end credits roll for this year's messed up kiddie movie, 'Hard Candy'. Previously, Gregg Araki, Todd Solondz and Harmony Korine have tackled issues surrounding paedophilia such as consent, allure and provocation, to either tragic, comedic or bittersweet effect. 'Hard Candy' prefers to study the buzz word itself, and it's unlikely product, a horrifying and extremely dangerous little girl who has taken it upon herself to teach LA's pied pipers a lesson, turning a world-weary immaturity and button nose to her advantage, with a little help from a scalpel.
Just as sweet Hayley cajoles twentysomething fashion photographer Jeff into taking her back to his pad, so we the concerned audience are led to believe that this perky cherub, albeit a little too sexually aware, is completely oblivious to the trifle she is going to get into. Except it doesn't quite work out that way. We are not so stupid as to assume that the characters are all that they appear to be. It is pretty obvious that Hayley is not your normal Miss Lavigne. Nor is Jeff the strictly no funny business grown-up who knows best. And so it is that we try to decipher them, what are the secrets they hide?
Director David Slade begins his film with a credit sequence that is all blue lines, vectors, right angles and red squares, the sum of which combine to depict the window of an online chat room, the first tool Hayley uses to ensnare her potential paedo. This is followed by a series of extreme close-ups of the pair as they exchange snappy dialogue in a cafe, the camera so tight on their facial expressions that you can barely see what else is going on in the (aurally) hectic caff. Things heat up when the dastardly duo return to Jeff's apartment, a stark boudoir of primary colours similar to the duke's chambers in Poe's 'Masque of the Red Death'. These uncomfortable extremes in tone and setting, which belie an authoritarian promise that all is being revealed, are sure to precede an unpleasant show-down between the two. And they do.
The opening build up and Jeff's eventual arse-over-tit into Hayleys spider web makes tense and terrific viewing. After this, however, there is a slow down in pace, allowing mind games and chit-chat to take over. By this point it seems a little too late to add depth to these characters, and even when Slade tries, he pulls the rug out from under us again and again, hammering it home that no, Hayley is not a thumb-sucking bunny wabbit, she is a sadistic, gung ho feminist science major who wants to cut Jeff's willy off. It is then hinted at that perhaps she is not fourteen but actually much older. In fact we end up learning nothing about this curmudgeon. A homicide sub-plot is then thrown in, as well as a cameo from the excellent Sandra Oh (Sideways, TV's Gray's Anatomy). Then a bevy of unrelated plot twists arrive, which are tossed back and forth by Jeff and Hayley at such speed that we are left floundering. This is all mirrored by Slade's camera style, which has become jogged and harried, the stark colours melding into hues and shadows. The Cartesian set-up had it all spelt out in Caps Lock, yet the rushed finale is confusing.
There is a scene early on in the film where Hayley and Jeff are inside an elevator, their bodies lit up under garish strip lights, standing before a metallic panel wall. This allusion to the operating table clearly implies that Slade will dissect his characters and leave no giblet unturned. Yet when the final reel arrives, he has made a right dog's dinner of it all. Despite this, you cannot assume that this was not his intention. Like the issues of paedophilia, responsible parenting and consent, our society and its sprawling media have done exactly that.
Rating: 7 out of 10