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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
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.
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.