Review: Hard Candy

Some people’s idea of a great night at the movies. 14 year-old Ellen Page (with one of those annoying haircuts that makes her look like a 9 year-old boy) meets a 30ish photographer (Patrick Wilson) online, and they start chatting away, until she actually suggests coming over to his place. But this is no ordinary 14 year-old, and Wilson is not your average 30ish photographer. He’s a possible paedophile (his photos are mostly that of youngsters), and she’s a semi-precocious Kathy Bates in “Misery”, with some very sick games on her mind.

This truly disturbing 2006 David Slade (yet another music video guy making his film debut, he went on to helm the much better “30 Days of Night” the following year) film gets high praise in many corners, but I had some major problems with it. Firstly, this is a repugnant idea for a film right off the bat, turning the very serious subject of paedophilia into cheapjack revenge movie fodder is something that I find truly deplorable. I’m no moral crusader, but Slade and writer Brian Nelson (apparently a playwright, which isn’t surprising as this is mostly a one-set, two-actor piece) ought to be ashamed with themselves for this plot. If there was a legitimate point to all this, it completely escaped my attention. What were they thinking? And even though it seems to argue against paedophilia, should it really be promoting vigilantism and torture in order to get that point across? They might be less objectionable than paedophilia, but that doesn’t make it right. However, not only is the plot objectionable (if not the whole film), it is completely contrived from beginning to end. So was “Misery”, but it worked as the characters seemed plausible for 90 odd minutes. Here, when Sandra Oh turns up as a nosy neighbour, it just seems like a requirement of the plot.

Secondly, I did not for one second buy Page’s performance, everyone else has called her a ‘revelation’ for some bizarre reason. Nor did I buy her oddly assured character. I’m just not convinced that 14 year-old girls are entirely capable of even contemplating what Page (aged 17 at the time the film was made) devises here, let alone carry it out in such a cool, calm and calculated manner (at least early on). And if it were possible, Page’s far too cocky interpretation of the character made sure I personally never believed it. There might be a lot of messed up teens out there, but this chick is a sociopath. And obviously so, right from the opening scene, thanks to Page’s mannered performance. Not once did I feel like I was watching a credible character, more of a plot device, and it hurts the film quite a bit.

And yet, I never stopped watching it. Even though the story was morally objectionable (at least to me) and hard to swallow, even though the acting was unconvincing, I was still somewhat caught up in the craziness of it all, the audaciousness. I don’t admire any of it, I don’t think it’s a good film at all, but it does make it hard to look away (except for a certain homemade ‘operation’ scene that will make every guy squirm). The very things I found objectionable were, in a strange way, the things that kept me watching. I couldn’t believe the balls Slade and Nelson were displaying here, even if I didn’t actually like any of it. And I’m sure some people are gonna like its twisted (in more than one sense), perverse nature. But I’d watch “Freeway” (another precocious youngster you don’t wanna mess with!) and “Play Misty For Me” (the ultimate ‘bunny boiler’ flick, bar none) instead, you’ll get the same kind of thing, only much, much better than this. Meanwhile, I’m gonna go take a shower. Maybe ten.

Rating: C-


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