A tough nut to chew on
Firstly let me apologise. It's taken me some time since viewing Hard Candy to try and make my mind up about it, and to be honest I'm still no closer to figuring out wether or not I actually enjoyed it. Crucially though the one thing I can say for certain is that it did manage to elicit some sort of emotional response other than apathy and/or the desire to fall asleep, and in a year where the first six months have so far played host to a crop of movies best described as "beyond bland" that in itself can be no bad thing. It's a fairly simple tale of a young teenager named Hayley (Ellen Page) who has been chatted up online by photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson), who at 32 is eighteen years her senior. When the two meet up at a local coffee house Jeff persuades the youngster to visit his home-cum-studio, and the scene is rather uncomfortably set for a most dubious encounter.
It becomes clear fairly early on that things aren't quite as they seem however, as Jeff is drugged by Hayley and awakes to find himself tied helplessly to a chair. Hayley apparently has it in her head that Jeff is a bit of a kiddy-fiddler and may be involved in the disappearance of a local girl who turned up dead. Intent on exacting some form of revenge, the pint-sized avenger begins a slow process of torture that involves an operating table, some shaving foam, Jeff's plums, a scalpel and a book on medical procedures relating to the male reproductive system. Nnnngggghhh!
It'd be fair to say that Hard Candy has arrived on our shores with something of a reputation. Even if it didn't do massive numbers Stateside it's still being talked about in the kind of tone that suggests "the next big thing" of it's director David Slade. Indeed I believe Slade has already been approached by Wes Craven over the possibility of directing a Last House On The Left remake, although that seems to have been deep-sixed. Mind you, I'm not entirely sure Hard Candy is best described as a horror so much as a generally unsettling diatribe against the male ego. Writer Brian Nelson certainly deserves some plaudits for a script that, while peppered with holes and logic bombs, nonetheless broaches uncomfortable subject matter in an unflinching manner that for once is worthy of presentation before ADULTS WITH BRAINS.
It's actually quite surprising in one respect to find such a vehemently anti-bloke script coming from the pen of a male, but then the flipside is that for something to explore such territory quite so frankly maybe it needs a male perspective. Either way the one thing Hard Candy succeeds at best is in making you feel incredibly shitty just for being born a man. As if that weren't enough, the now infamous implied castration scene marks the first time ever this reviewer has actually felt queasy sitting in a cinema. And I do mean queasy; after a fashion I did begin to suspect that if the colour didn't return to my face some time soon an involuntary visit to the bathroom might be the order of the day. Maybe that's just because I viewed this movie without company, or maybe it was just the previous night's dodgy kebab; it represents a dubious milestone regardless.
Emotional resonance aside, by and large the technical merits of Hard Candy are well forged if nothing spectacular. Much has been said about the digital colouring of each scene reflecting the mood, but I for one would argue that this hardly represents a revelation in cinematography as it's already been done countless times (Traffic, anyone?), but again it certainly doesn't hurt. Both Page and Wilson give good, solid performances (even if the former does grate a little bit with the teenager schtick), and it's unlikely to hurt either of their careers to have this on the CV. So overall there's no real faulting Hard Candy, except that maybe Nelson's script leaves too many inconsistencies for the unconvincing ending to tie up with any great degree of satisfaction.
So what's the problem then? Well, like I say, I can't even decide if there is one. I suspect that after years of reporting increasingly staid "shockers" and teen gorefests it's simply come as a shock to my system to happen across something that elicits any kind of reaction whatsoever. Nrrrr... (insert R2-D2 noises here) DOES NOT COMPUTE! One thing is for certain; if this is not supposed to be an enjoyable movie (and I suspect this may well be the case), then it certainly succeeds in evoking emotion far better than pointless pseudo-arthouse pap like Irreversible. There is certainly a place for cinema designed to challenge the psyche, and hats off to Slade and Nelson for placing Hard Candy firmly in that slot. It's just that I'm not ever going to want to rush out and buy it in order to feel that uncomfortable again.
I award this movie 4 out of 5 Disko Units
Jeff (Patrick Wilson)