Back in January 2006, HOODWINKED!, a riff on the Little Red Riding Hood tale, opened
to mixed reviews, but pretty good box office. That was merely one in a long line of movies that
played with our common knowledge about the story. Several years ago, there was FREEWAY,
which took a more dramatic approach. Now comes another version of the old tale, this one
framed as a cat-and-mouse drama and called HARD CANDY.
The film approaches the issue of child predators on the Internet. In today’s bustling world,
many men and women have turned to cyberspace to find a romantic partner – Mr. or Ms. Right, or
barring that, Mr. or Ms. Right Now. The phenomenon has made its way into motion pictures.
Newspapers and TV outlets (especially during the all-important “sweeps” periods) offer warnings
and highlight the inherent dangers of meeting strangers via computer. Indeed, the NBC
newmagazine "DATELINE", working in tandem with local authorities, have done shows built
around the premise of luring men to the home of a young boy or girl (usually over 12 but under 17).
The men arrive expecting a hook-up but are greeted by the reporter and cameras. Some turn and
flee, some calmly explain their “concern” for the youngster left home alone, while others are more
explicit about exactly why they are there. Nearly every day, there are stories about teacher,
government officials or police officers who have been unmasked as pedophiles. Clearly, this is
a hot button issue.
HARD CANDY takes a slightly different approach to the material but still packs a pretty good
wallop.(Although there are some key problems with the plot in the second and third acts.) The film
opens with a computer screen and the flirtatious banter of two people in cyberspace: Lensman319
and Thonggrl14. After some back and forth, the pair decide to meet face to face at a local coffee
shop. The former is Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a 32-year-old professional photographer. The latter is
Hayley (Ellen Page), a precocious 14-year-old honors student. Hayley is eating a slice of cake when
Jeff arrives and it is clear from the outset that each is warily circling the other. Clearly the
photographer would like to do more than snap photographs of the seemingly innocent teenager.
Eventually, it’s decided that they would return to Jeff’s house and see what develops. That’s where
things get “interesting,” to say the least.
In order not to ruin any of the surprises in Brian Nelson’s screenplay, I will refrain from giving
any further descriptions of the plot. Nelson, a playwright, has written fairly literate dialogue and for
the first hour or so of the movie, the characters are believable. There’s a sense of predator and
prey that is a bit unnerving, but that’s as it should be. All I will say is that the tables are turned, and
that’s when the film begin to get dodgey. While watching the film, I had some difficulty accepting
Hayley’s actions. Page does a masterful job in portraying an avenging angel in the form of a Lolita,
but the character’s motives are really never made clear. There’s also a very last minute twist that
is handled as almost a throwaway – a couple of lines of dialogue that could easily be missed – that
left some of the people I saw the film with slightly confused.
Patrick Wilson has never really impressed much as an actor. Sure he was adequate in
ANGELS IN AMERICA, but his other work, from starring onstage in OKLAHOMA! to his
supporting work in THE ALAMO and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has left me cold.
In HARD CANDY, he’s merely adequate. He does manage to evince some sympathy when his
character faces Hayley’s wrath, but again, the script lets him down in the aftermath. I had a hard
time accepting the character’s actions in the final act. It also doesn't help that Page is such a
formidable screen presence.
Director David Slade, in his feature film debut, manages to keep things visually interesting in
what is essentially a two-character psychological thriller. The cinematography of Jo Willems
has been heightened, making the primary colors more vivid and appealing. But HARD CANDY
drags in spots. It might have benefited from some judicious pruning and the ending goes on and on.
When Hayley finally dons her red hoodie at film’s end, it becomes clear that this is a revisionist
version of the fairy tale (and leaves open the possibility of a sequel).
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent and aberrant sexual content involving
a teen, and for language
Running time: 103 min.
Viewed at Magno Review One
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.