Retrospective: Hard Candy (2005)

Oh where to start on this movie! I could be boring and talk about how Hard Candy made Ellen Page’s career or how it’s an hour and forty minutes of psychological torture which makes you feel like it’s absolutely justified considering the character in question. Then there’s how it deals with abusers and their motivation and the ways paedophiles prey on the young.

Jeff Kohlver: Look. I’m not the monster you think I am. But, okay, I crossed a line. Just call the cops. I’ll turn myself in.

Hayley Stark: [as if narrating a headline] Cute Pedophile Pleads Guilty.

[speaking as a defense attorney]

Hayley Stark: “Aww, it’s not his fault. He’s sick. He has an addiction.”

Jeff Kohlver: I’ll do jail. Isn’t, isn’t that what should happen?

Hayley Stark: Yeah. You might. You might get jail time. I dunno: therapy, drugs, group discussions, notifying people when you move into a new house. How bad is that, really?

Jeff Kohlver: It’ll ruin my career, ruin my life.

Hayley Stark: Well, didn’t Roman Polanski just win an Oscar?

This movie was recommended to me years ago by a friend. Ellen Page is in the sort of dangerous role that she has never played since. She is Hayley Stark, a character who actively lies. At the start of the movie she is having a flirtatious instant message conversation with a character under the identity of Lensman319, a photographer who we learn is Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson). They meet in a café and get to know each other and Page plays something which sounds like a rather plausible fourteen year old girl who seems suitably precocious and relatively smart. She’s independently minded and not fulfilling any of the typical stereotypes you would expect from a paedophile’s pray. She goes over to his house and suddenly there is an extremely rapid change of tone from flirtatious to dangerous.

The movie takes you into the mind of a paedophile and works as a very smart two hander which would make an excellent play. Stark is initially set up to be a Lolita character, with sexually provocative statements and the willingness to go home with the man. Page plays a rather fun character who she uses again in Juno, albeit she then has greater sass and of course she’s less violent. This film is basically an hour and half of Page torturing a scumbag to confess to his deeply unpleasant crimes. She tortures him while he pleads, begs, threatens and creates stories to excuse why he is like this. This movie is very strong on the role of hidden truths, confession and the role of vengeance. This is alluded to as each of his lies are picked apart as she has the better of him. It also has a good focus on the hypocrisies of adults; Roman Polanski should not be free, and crimes should be punished not excused. 

The movie is extremely sparse with very little music but the sound is dominated by lots of breathing of various kinds, mainly ragged as Jeff goes through his personal hell. The movie has a focus on close ups as large parts of the film are from a very restricted view point which emphasises the trapped nature of Jeff as he was caught hook line and sinker in this trap. 

This is another movie which I can admire it for its internal consistency as it perfectly follows the rules of ‘Checkov’s gun’ with almost every item introduced before it is used. What is also interesting is how Jeff is a spectator in his own inquisition. He sees things which can be used as a method of escape which are then used against him, such as a profusion of household weapons as he tries so very hard to get the better of Stark. 

I have done many first features from other directors but few have had such an odd past and present as David Slade. He’s gone from being a music video director into features and also done some TV, with Breaking Bad, Twilight: Eclipse, and working with The Killers all on his CV. Is a very odd CV and I’m not sure if his future work matches the inventiveness it promises here as Hard Candy is truly a movie unlike any I have seen.

Review by Harry Riedl


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