Deception Takes Many Forms|
by Matthew Stogdon, published on Wednesday, July 26, 2006 22:38:20
For first time feature director, David Slade, opting to film a piece about the precarious nature of online dating and the foreboding risks some individuals take is tricky, to say the least; after all, it's a very real threat that has come about through worldwide communication. The film opens to a very stylised title sequence, delivered in an almost Mondrian style, followed by an IM chat screen between thongrrrrl14 and lensman319. Once they agree to meet, we realise that thongrrrrl14 is in fact fourteen year old Hayley Stark [Page] and lensman319 is thirty two year old Jeff Kohlver [Wilson]. The first meeting is delightfully unsettling. Jeff is charming, amusing and seemingly confident whereas Hayley is first presented as nervous, fiercely intelligent and yet slightly naive. They share coffee & chocolate and begin to chat. For the audience it's cringingly awkward as displaced feelings run rampant; are we supposed to feel good for them or should we be appalled? Although there is an initial unrefined atmosphere, an overpowering sweetness is prime. As most of the flirtatious advances are coming from Hayley and Jeff's responses are a little leading, but mostly charming there's a sense of innocence and you convince yourself that there's nothing wrong with their relationship. Having mentioned a live recording of Goldfrapp (supposedly one of Hayley's favourite bands), Hayley invites herself around to Jeff's place. This is the turning point, after this everything seems to spiral, leaving the audience feeling more uncomfortable as the film progresses. Once they reach Jeff's house - a secluded spot in the hills, far from the city - Jeff slowly opens up about his occupation as a photographer, explaining that his house is not only his studio but one large portfolio. Alcohol is thrown into the mix and things escalate dramatically as Jeff passes out. The picture fades to black (often throughout the film, similar to chapters of a book). A covered man sits, bound to an office chair, quietly moaning. Hayley skips into view and removes the blanket from Jeff's face, asking if he was calling out for her. Her innocent questioning is slightly unnerving but as Jeff starts to realise the severity of the situation, the levels and extents of Hayley's intelligence start to truly terrify - especially since Hayley's motives are never clear, we're simply led to believe that she is attempting to prove that Jeff is in fact a paedophile.
The title gives away a lot of the plot, but may remain confusing to most. The two meanings I read from 'Hard Candy' is that internet slang for 'underage teen' is hard candy and in certain parts of America lollies and hard candies are called suckers; aiding the poster design of the innocent girl in the bear trap. Unfortunately, everything seems a little repetitive after the first hour but the faults are so few and minuscule that they don't enter your head until long after the credits roll. Hayley's control over the situation is so thought out that the threat of Jeff's escape is more of an opportunity for her to strike at him again rather than pushing the plot any further. The back story is brief and very little is confirmed through explanation, the audience is simply left to conclude what they will. We are allowed two brief glimpses into Jeff's past, the first being a childhood experience, being threatened by his aunt and the other is of a girl he once knew, Janelle. Both Wilson and Page do a fantastic job as most of the film is simply back-and-forth interrogation, providing more of a challenge than their previous and upcoming titles; Wilson played the fop-haired Raoul in The Phantom Of The Opera and Page is set to play Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand - even if she does look like Haley Joel Osment's twin sister.
Slade clearly has no sympathy for paedophiles -not that I'm taking a pro-stance on it- which is one of the reasons the plot drags and becomes stale. What starts out as an expose/vengeance movie quickly degenerates into a sadomasochistic torture flick. Not nearly as bad as Hostel, showing very little gore but the extent of Hayley's vicious nature can seem a little over-the-top at times; a certain castration scene comes to mind. There is a slight worry, among the critiquing world, that this film may not just illustrate the horrors of paedophilia, but may in fact feed some people's needs and desires, therefore encouraging paedophilia. This is, however, an age-old argument that generally crops up for most controversial films, so I can't penalise the film on that basis alone.
6th July 2006
The Scene To Look Out For:
The gritty castration scene had me wincing and writhing in my seat, but the real highlight was Jeff's speech. He has this long drawn-out spiel about his first sexual experience, which also happens to be his first paedophilic
As there are so few characters it would be both stupid and insulting to pick anyone other than Ms. Page. One of the main reasons this film works so well is the sheer vulnerability that lies behind Page's eyes, you don't want her to get hurt but as soon as that innocence becomes focused it changes to rage which is just as terrifying
"Jeff... this is why they make those federal laws"
In A Few Words:
"Witty and violent, a little unrealistic towards the end but the message remains clear"
Total Score: 7/10