Judge Brett Cullum sets the summer sun on fire.
Our review of Hard Candy (Blu-Ray), published October 8th, 2010, is also available.
"Jeff, play time is over. It's time to wake up."—Hayley
Strangers should never talk to little girls. S<>Hard Candy is the heir apparent to Fatal Attraction, and it's the slickest sick thriller to come along this year. It's a horror movie where the terror is damn real; it makes the Internet a scary world for predators seeking underaged teens. This revenge fantasy is brought viscerally to life with great skill in front and behind the camera.
Facts of the Case
Self-proclaimed thirty-two year old "decent guy" Jeff (Patrick Wilson, Angels in America) hooks up with a fourteen year-old girl he's been chatting with on-line for weeks. He's a successful photographer, and doesn't appear to have any seriously creepy intentions…well, aside from the fact he is meeting an underaged girl from on-line. That's pretty creepy. But not near as insane as what he finds himself trapped within mere minutes into a misguided stop by his well-appointed home. Hayley (Ellen Page, X-Men -The Last Stand) isn't nearly as innocent as she looks. She's going to viciously turn the tables on Jeff in a cat and mouse game that will have every guy in the room squirming in their seats before its over. Hard Candy is a tough pill to swallow, but you'd better take your medicine and learn from it. Little girls aren't to be trifled with—and if they suspect you are a pedophile you're gonna get it.
You may have missed Hard Candy in the cinema, because it got a limited run and disappeared quickly. Not to worry, because a frightening tale like this works better in the safety of your own home, perhaps merely feet away from that brightly lit screen you use to chat with people on the Internet. People you hardly know, and those that may not be what they say. A world where identity is fluid, and where someone may know you better than you think. That person might be a current boyfriend or girlfriend merely laying a trap for you by making up a false identity on a chat room they happened across in your electronic history. Or far worse, someone who wishes to do you harm by providing a dark fantasy they suspect you will like. It could even be your typical American Psycho looking for a next victim.
This is a monster movie, but it's done entirely in the real world. The movie lets you wonder who the predator and the prey is every step of the way, and it ends exactly how it should. It's a film about vigilantes, sexual justice, and hard questions. It could be accused of being a feminist film, but that's far too simple. You'll question, you'll debate, and you'll find yourself writhing all the way. The movie is well acted, and well executed. Hard Candy is an easy flick to admire, even if it's not an easy film to watch. This is the "love it" or "hate it" film of the year, but it's certainly not the dumbest. It's razor sharp, fierce, and gut-wrenching. The less I tell you the better.
The two performances of Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson are brutally honest and real. In two roles that could have been unintentional camp, they rise to the occasion to provide an intensity that is unmatched. Page is a revelation, able to go from sweet to malevolent in an instant. She's vulnerable but feral the entire story. That recent X-Men movie did little to prove her acting, but here she's fierce. Patrick Wilson proves his range, and breaks away from the romantic leads he's been saddled thanklessly so far (such as his cardboard turn in Phantom of the Opera). I haven't seen a male so able to make our sympathies turn on a dime in a long time. He plays victim and evil well, and this motion picture proves he needs to be taken more seriously by Hollywood.
The direction and production values are spot on as well. Cinematography is shot tightly to provide the claustrophobia essential to an intimate thriller. Colors are pushed purposefully, and subtly crazy camera work heightens the sequences where things need to be disorienting. The production is handsome for an independent feature, and very little reveals a small budget or tight schedule. This is a fiendishly well done movie in every respect from stem to stern. This is one of the best realized movies, and every beat is where it needs to be.
The DVD produced for the film provides exactly what you want. The anamorphic widescreen picture is crystal clear, and captures the color palette extremely well. Primary colors jump, and blood is all too clear. The five channel surround sound is exhausting in the more tense scenes, and can be soft or punishing at the right moments. There is a director and writer commentary, as well as a separate one provided by the two thespians who bring this story to life. The scribe and man behind the camera talk about the technical dilemmas they faced, while the actors delve in to the characters and story. Deleted scenes are provided which are interesting though rightfully out of the feature. We get two featurettes including a making of documentary and thoughts on the film from cast and crew. DVD ROM features provide a production notebook for those who wish to delve even deeper.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is more than intense, it's an exploitation masterpiece. If you are the type of person who is squeamish or prone to anxiety attacks, stay far away from Hard Candy. It's one of the most intense thrillers I've seen, and the subject matter is revolting. I walked away from the movie at one point, and debated if I was coming back. I'm glad I did, but it was hard to do. This is a rough ride, and many people are not going to get through this feature all the way. Don't turn this one in to a date night movie unless you're both brave and well adjusted.
Hard Candy lives up to the title by being hard to watch, but it is the most thrilling hour and forty-two minutes of the year. Heavy on style, excellent performances, and a whip smart script, this is sheer perfection. The problem is you may not make it through the film, especially if you're sensitive or male. We have an unforgiving film here not afraid to take you to darker places than anyone has ever gone before. The themes are rough, the violence is palpable, and the sense of dread is unrelenting. The question isn't is Hard Candy brave, rather it's if it can find a daring audience. Repeat viewings may be difficult, but the first time through you are promised one hell of a harrowing trip. It's up to you to figure out if this is vindication or violent pornography. Empowering or exploitation? There are no easy answers, and there never should be.
Guilty of being the hardest film to watch in ages, and the most thrilling confection to come along. Hard Candy is an instant classic of exploitation and darkness. Little girls will never feel innocent again.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director David Slade and Writer Brian Nelson
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