Easily one of the most messed up movies of the year, "Hard Candy" is about pedophilia, but its approach is painful and twisted. Thanks to stellar direction and a breakout performance by Ellen Page, "Hard Candy" is one of the most riveting movies of the year, albeit not without some flaws.
Ellen Page stars as Hayley Stark, a pretty but not gorgeous 14-year old girl. Innocent and sweet, she has met an older man online in the form of 32-year old Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson). While their exchange starts off innocent enough, they quickly move from the coffee shop where they met to Jeff's home. Screwdrivers are mixed, a couple articles of clothing are removed, and Jeff is in a whole world of trouble. For Hayley is not who she says she is. She isn't innocent and she isn't sweet, and she knows everything about Jeff - she's been watching him for weeks. Her mission is simple: make Jeff pay for what he has done.
Page, who has a minor starring role as Kitty Pryde in "X-Men: The Last Stand," is absolutely amazing here. One of the creepiest and dangerous protagonists in recent memory, she delivers every one of her lines with conviction. Her character toys with and teases her victim every step of the way, and Page seems to be enjoying it fully. Pitted against Wilson, who isn't as strong but still quite good, the dialogue throughout the movie is top notch. Nothing is left unexplored, and, for a movie where there is basically only two characters, the dialogue carries the flick.
Kudos go to director David Slade for taking an already good screenplay (by Brian Nelson) and turning it into a visual experience. The direction, cinematography and editing are top notch, as "Hard Candy" has a unique visual flare. The camera is always moving, and rarely does the camera "just jump" between the two characters as they exchange dialogue.
Most interesting is that the protagonist is not necessarily a good guy, and the pedophile is not necessarily an evil villain. The way Hayley treats Jeff, it is impossible not to feel compassion for Jeff, even though you have a sense for what he has done.
"Hard Candy" is not without its problems. Its pacing is inconsistent at times, and a few scenes are drawn out a bit too much. The ending is particularly questionable - I really didn't buy into how things go down. Would Jeff really make the decisions he did? Amazingly, the movie survives its ending quite well, as the rest of the film is quite powerful.
"Hard Candy" isn't the perfect film and doesn't always convince you of its logic, but its direction, screenplay and performances are more than enough to keep you on the edge of your seat - or squirming in it. "Hard Candy" isn't for everyone, but if you have the stomach for such a film, this is a must-see.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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