the science fiction
fantasy horror &
Hard Candy (2006)
Director: David Slade
review by Paul Higson
Risky territory is dipped into with comparative reserve in David Slade's Hard Candy as a paedophile and a girl respectively groom one other as potential victims. Bold and dangerous as the subject matter might still be, don't get carried away with the reports of blood, torture and the thank god for it 18 rating, as ITV's The Bill has been covering this theme in grittier and more distressing fashion at a more breakneck pace for years. Hard Candy opens with chatroom correspondence between Thonggrrrl and Lensman, signatures that evoke foxcore chick and the teenage anime geek respectively. They have clicked sentences at one another for weeks and now arrange to meet. He uses the ploy of a Goldfrapp live recording to get her back to his apartment but she more than plays her part in talking her way into his photographic studio home. Once there she slips him a cocktail that will deck him and he awakens tied to a chair with the underage seductress replaced by a dangerously smart, young girl who means to do all the abusing.
The film opens with a softly enticing score by Molly Nyman and spartan title design by Mik Kato that between them promise an aesthetique du cool. Appropriately, given the running motif of this film, they are a deceptive introduction. If you have caught the TV spots on this film then you have already seen everything that moves at more than a snail pace in the film. Hard Candy feels like an un-produced stage-play. The entire film feels underdeveloped. Having agreed to trap the two characters in the premise the makers then have to fill the time. It's high on waffle and, once the tables are turned, the girl Hayley (Ellen Page, X-Men: The Last Stand), begins to talk in a precise and overly mannered way with a knowledge beyond her years. It never is determined in the film where her deceptions begin and end, and it could be that the girl is not 14 but a knowledgeable 20-year-old who knows she can pass for 14 and uses it to this end. But we are left with too many questions about her identity. Clearly, if it went wrong and she was to escape his clutches she wanted to be able to retreat to a safe position and what better way to do that but to divulge not one truth about herself. Her prodigious wit, remarks like the one about Polanski, is too informed to be coming from a 14-year-old. Rather than cockily go after a famed director in exile it might have been more current and braver for the makers to have highlighted the current success of Victor Salva whose appalling acts against the boy star on his first film, Clownhouse, which he filmed in the cellar at the end of a day's shooting, have not discouraged studios from funding the Jeepers Creepers franchise for him. (The second film in the series - Jeepers Creepers 2 - featuring a busload of kids terrorised is a dirty snub at justice.) But no, as clever as Hard Candy purports to be, it wouldn't go after a contemporary Hollywood money-spinner. Hypocritical Hollywood is very forgiving. I have not seen either of the Jeepers Creepers films.
So the girl might not be a girl, but for the script to admit that the girl is not a girl but a woman would be to remove one more subversive element from the film and that would leave the audience cheated. Cheated I have been though. The film does not have the cajones to go all the way; its extremes are all suggested. The 18 rating is there for reasons not easily determinable. If it is because it educates on grooming, not unlike the way drugs movies are hit heavily in classification for fear of showing young people how to shoot up, then it is protection gone awry as clearly the age limit does not affect those who might adopt the movie as a training ground. It is self-defeating for the film to portray a '14-year-old' in the act of subtle seduction. It is the creep who is going to take this as evidence of what he preaches about underage girls.
Don't expect blood. The video playback of the castration that is not a castration is glimpsed out of focus and I did not realise there was 'live coverage' until the end of the 'procedure'. This is a film terrified of the transgressions and visceral shocks that it has promised. The lack of a graphic content to the film goes only towards glamorising the film and might only produce another fantasy for the perpetrators of such crimes, and the knowingness of the underage avenger will only feed into their sick belief system that young girls are worthy challengers. Hard Candy is a resolutely stupid and phoney film. Even its paedophile, Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a handsome Calvin Klein ad Hollywood interpretation of a sexual offender. Sandra Oh is imported into the story for a couple of scenes, and despite her puzzlement and questioning of what is in occurrence, she ultimately moves on disengaging herself from her suspicions, when if anything she should have been more suspicious. Shortly after this the cat and mouse are scurrying around the grounds, he with a large knife and fearless of the image it would present to his neighbours. We have been informed that many of the neighbours are away, but by now we know that is not the entire complex. Some of the film's prattle becomes interminable and I did periodically shut off rather than have to listen to it.
The story is witnessed at close quarters. There is not one long shot in the film. The extreme close-ups ultimately appear to have less to do with intimacy and more with hiding the low budget. It models itself on Wait Until Dark, but feels more like a beached-and-dry Open Water. Comparisons to Audition come from people who have watched the Miike film once then only subsequently accessed it from scene ten on the DVD menu selection. Don't buy into this movie's hype.
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