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Hard CandyReview - Hard Candy
DVD
by David Slade (Director)
Lions Gate, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jan 2nd 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 1)

Hard Candy is an extremely uncomfortable movie that reverses the expected power roles between Jeff, a man in his early thirties, and Hayley, a fourteen year old girl.  They meet online, then they meet in a café, and he takes her back to his house.  At first, we feel concerned for Hayley, because she seems naïve and at risk.  They are flirting and she seems to like his attention.  They start drinking, and it looks like things are going to get more sexual.  But then there's a reversal, and Hayley takes control of the situation.  Nearly the whole film is set in his house, as she holds him prisoner and finds out his secrets.  Then she explains to him that she is going to castrate him.  The story plays itself out as the two of them play out a psychologically tortuous game.

This is a low budget movie, but the script and the acting are very strong, and the cinematography is stylish.  When Hayley meets Jeff in the café, we see their faces in close up, and all the awkwardness of their interaction.  Jeff is clear that he knows it would be very inappropriate for him to have any sort of sexual interaction with Haley, yet he is also brazen at expressing his attraction to her.  Patrick Wilson is very accomplished as Jeff, putting Hayley at ease with his assured banter and charm.  However, Ellen Page is quite remarkable in acting out a pretence, letting emotions flit across her face in fractions of a second.  Hayley is precocious in her reading, saying that she wishes that she could have gone to see Elizabeth Wurtzel talk at the local university, and she is as ironically self-effacing as any twenty-something.  Yet at the same time, she seems so impressed by Jeff's achievements as a photographer and his coolness, in the most non-ironic way.  She is beautiful in her innocence, and enticing in her sophistication.  It is easy to see the attraction between Jeff and Hayley.  Once the tables are turned, however, it becomes clear that Hayley was setting a trap for Jeff all along.  Later, she points out that he was the one who was stalking her.  Both of them are devious and angry, so much of the interest of the film is a battle of wits.

Visually, the film is carefully color coordinated.  At the start, Hayley wears a red hoodie with red leggings, and she is set against red and orange backgrounds.  Jeff's bedroom is, oddly, a vibrant pink, with wooden furniture and a bed with pink sheets, and his purple shirt matches it perfectly.  Once Jeff is tied down in a chair, the light is blue and hard, and Hayley has changed into blue jeans and a black top.  When she performs her operation on him, the walls of the room are dark blue and the floor is gray in blue light.  She wears a turquoise top that looks like it would be worn by a surgeon.  It is very striking. 

It is not so clear that Hard Candy has any particular insight into pedophilia to offer: this is a film firmly in the genre of psychological thriller.  Ultimately, Hayley remains a mysterious figure throughout the film.  We learn more about what Jeff has done, but we don't know what Hayley's personal stake is in gaining retribution.  Occasionally, she seems disturbed by what she is doing, but for the most part she is fuelled by a cold rage.  Similarly, while Jeff confesses to a terrible crime, he never seems to experience any true remorse.  He just seems upset that he has been found out.  Yet this is a movie that addresses issues few other movies have broached, and it draws both on women's anger on sexual attack, and also on men's primal fear of castration, so it will grab your attention.

The DVD extras include two commentaries, one by the director and script writer Brian Nelson, and the other by the two principal actors.  There are some deleted scenes as well as a documentary about the creation of the movie and its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.  The commentaries are a little too self-congratulatory but they are interesting enough.  The filmmakers discuss the controversy they created and say they are glad that they have raised questions. 

The writer and director are right to defend themselves against accusations that they are just making money off an attention-grabbing topic: this is a sophisticated and interesting film.  Yet it is also troubling and unsatisfying experience because the interaction between Jeff and Hayley has seemed just a game, with little context and very few details to provide any emotional closure.  The figure Hayley as the troubled, smart and angry adolescent girl is a great one -- Nelson expresses his admiration for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in one of the DVD extras -- but here she just appears and disappears, as if by magic.  Combined with her unnatural strength and intelligence, she seems more of a mythical figure than someone we can relate to.  It verges on exploiting the gender wars, and the implausibility of some of the plot details as it develops undermines its emotional power, but nevertheless it is one of the most distinctive movies to have been released recently. 

Despite its shortcomings, Hard Candy is a stunning movie that bears repeated watching.  Watching the commentaries may clarify some crucial plot details that are rather confusing.  So this is a DVD well worth seeing. 

 

 

© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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