by Jeff Labrecque, published on July 5, 2013 - 4:00PM|
Theres a great scene in the opening moments of Robert Altmans The Player where Tim Robbins puddle-deep studio exec is taking pitches from a grizzled old screenwriter played by Buck Henry. Okay, here it is , the hack begins. The Graduate Part II. 25 years later. Its supposed to be funny, and it is, especially since Buck Henry himself was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing The Graduate in 1967. It became even funnier or sadder? in 2005, when Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner starred in their quasi-Graduate-sequel, Rumor Has It.
Hollywood has been out of original ideas for decades now. A generation that was raised by television re-runs is now controlling the levers of Hollywood power, so they are practically conditioned to expect the same entertainment over and over and over again. To those who protest or look down their noses at this long-ago development, I say Get over it! Better to drink the Kool-Aid, folks. Submit to the machine. Just demand better sequels. Unusual sequels. Sequels to films that were never intended to be franchises in the first place, so their original plots actually had a beginning, middle, and an end, and include satisfying character development. Lets start aiming for the next Before Midnight instead of the next Hangover Part III.
With that in mind, I would like to pitch a sequel to a 2006 indie that earned just $1.0 million at the box office. Okay, here it is , this hack begins. Hard Candy Part II. 10 years later.
For those of you who didnt see Hard Candy, the movie stars Ellen Page as Hayley, a precocious 14-year-old who seems to be taken in by Jeff, a handsome older photographer (Patrick Wilson) that she met online. When they finally connect in person, they flirt and he brings her back to his place and offers her alcohol. But before that can play out, the tables are turned. She drugs him, ties him up, accuses him of being a pedophile, and puts him through all sorts of psychological torture that includes what appears to be his castration. She wants him to admit to his sins that hes responsible for the death of a local girl whos gone missing and while our sympathies volley back and forth between the two, we learn that Hayley is a furious feminist vigilante whos done this before. Her genius is terrifying. Shes thought of every eventuality, and Jeff is helpless when he realizes how hes been outmaneuvered. In the end, after dispatching her man, she slips away, wearing the same red hoodie that seemingly marked her as a helpless Little Red Riding Hood but that now represents something entirely different. It may as well be a cape.
What becomes of Hayley? Does she become some heroic avenging angel who protects the meek, or does she warp into someone like John Doe (Kevin Spacey) from Seven, a batsh-t loon who relishes in turning sin against the sinner? So fast-forward 10 years. Were in Seattle, and we meet Detective Kevin Moylan, a great cop who used to protect his mother and sisters from their abusive father. Hes handsome, with a great swatch of facial hair hiding a boyish face. Think Jake Gyllenhaal. Hes investigating a puzzling suicide in which a high-school chemistry teacher ingested poisonous chemicals from his classroom lab that forced his stomach to explode. The school janitor found the naked body in his office ruptured like a pinata early Monday morning. Its the third gruesome suicide in the last six months. No one at the station believes theres any connection between the incidents except Moylan. He starts to sniff around.
We finally meet Hayley again at a popular coffee shop. Shes still girly cute, and of course, she still wears her red hoodie. Shes tapping away at her laptop while wearing earbuds and sipping her latte, but shes really watching and listening to everything around her: the young couple in line arguing over something that happened the night before, the two teen girls who are furiously typing out phone texts, and the polished businessman at the corner table who casually responds to an IM on his laptop, oblivious that Hayley is monitoring his every key-stroke. As soon as we see her, we realize those three suicides werent suicides at all, and that Polished Businessman better watch his step.
But this Hayley is slightly different than we remember her. Theres a hardness to her face that she finds difficult to mask now. If we could see within her soul, wed know that shes killed 24 men since we last saw her. Shes as meticulous and clever as ever, and shes led two dozen men to their deaths in the same way she dispatched Jeff in Hard Candy. The thing is, one of them turned out to be innocent. It was an accident, a failure in research and preparation. Three years ago, she thought she had set up a man who kidnapped, raped, and murdered four teenaged girls in Portland. She laid the trap, and tortured the man, but he wouldnt admit to his crimes. He wouldnt play her game, he wouldnt submit. So she burned him to death. Two weeks later, one of the murdered girls escaped from some guys storm cellar. The police quickly caught the guy responsible who happened to look just like the guy shed burned. Shed tortured and murdered the pervs twin, an innocent man.
Moylan starts to find connections between the suicides. His superiors think hes mad, his girlfriend is tired of hearing about it and just wants to talk about The Bachelorette, but he sees the fingerprints of some criminal genius. Obviously, our two characters have to cross paths, and they do at a sketchy bar. Hayley drinks alone, not wanting to be disturbed. But Moylan cant resist the girl in the red hoodie. She blows him off at first, but when she sees him defend a woman struggling to resist a drunks forceful advances, she changes her tune. She introduces herself as Joan. Yes, they hit it off, and yes, they spend the night together. Duh.
So Moylan is now involved with the woman responsible for the murders hes investigating. Think Basic Instinct and Sea of Love, but with some hope for redemption. Plus, Moylan has no clue what hes walked into. Hes intrigued by Joan, whos secretive about her past and disappears on him from time to time, but he assumes shes some wounded-bird and he craves being her white knight. Eventually, he talks about his job, the suicides he thinks are murders. He shares his crazy theory that he thinks his suspect is a young woman. Joan barely blinks. Shes more interested in what the police are doing about this new missing girl case, the one thats not getting any ink in the papers because the girl is African-American rather than some blond cheerleader. Moylan shrugs.
Eventually, Joans emotional reticence compels Moylan to look into her past. He doesnt find much shes practically a ghost with few official records but he does find some puzzling discrepancies in what shes told him about her life. For one shes changed her name several times.
Moylan keeps digging. And digging. Hes obsessed with Joan. Hes obsessed with the suicides. And when he traces them both back to the suicide case of Jeff the photographer, he finds a photo of Joan/Hayley that Jeff had taken before he passed out from the roofie. Its a Einhorn is Finkle, Finkle is Einhorn moment. Moylan races back to Seattle to confront Joan/Hayley, who he cant reach by phone. He checks her house, but shes not there. He breaks in and rifles through her things. Theres not much just photos of the missing black girl. He races to the girls familys address on the wrong side of town, speaks with the girls parents, who reveal that they recognize the picture of Joan that Moylan shows them. Shes that nice white girl from the paper.
He looks everywhere for Joan. To no avail. Finally, he returns home. Where Joan is waiting for him. She knows that he knows. Youre about to do it again, arent you? he says. She nods. She pleads for her to stop, to let him and the police do their jobs. You cant do what must be done, she says coldly. You dont understand, Kevin. I have to.
But does she have to? Can she still go through with her next premeditated execution? Does she still have the taste for it after being so wrong about the twin perv? And has her relationship with Moylan had any impact on her? He lets her leave that night, but the climax of the film takes place the next day at the scene of Hayleys next operation. Moylan bursts in in the nick of time, and he has to chose: Does he save the victim the Polished Businessman that Hayley is torturing? Will he arrest or even shoot the woman he loves to rescue a deviant scumbag who deserves what shes doing to him? The rest of the police are outside, the house is surrounded. What will Hayley do? Had she planned for this eventuality too? Does she have a way out?