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Hard Candy (R)

Release Date: April 14th, 2006 (Angelika Film Center) by Lionsgate Films.
The Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Jennifer Holmes.
Directed by David Slade.

BASIC PREMISE: 32-year-old Jeff (Wilson) gets more than he bargained for when he invites 14-year-old Hayley (Page) into his house after meeting her on the internet.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Shocking, surprising, squeamish are the words that come to mind while watching Hard Candy. During the first act Jeff shoots Hayley in semi-erotic poses, but just when you think he’s about to sexually abuse her, she turns the tables on him. Until the point when she ties him to a chair, screenwriter Brian Nelson only lets you know a few small bits of information which later become crucial to the plot, yet they don’t give too much away about Hayley’s background. For example, Jeff happens to notice her carrying a medical textbook in her back when they meet off-line at a café. Also, a few young girls have gone missing in the area. What could have been a non-stop sadistic horror film instead turns out to be a nerve-racking psychological thriller with Jeff pleading for his innocence (most of the time) while Hayley tries to pull the truth out of him—among two other things that she pulls out, which will not be spoiled here. Ellen Page gives a bold performance with a nice balance of innocence and dark, mean-spirited humor. What makes Hard Candy so frustrating at times is that it’s difficult to figure out who to root for because both characters seem psychotic and troubled in different ways. Near the third act, Sandra Oh makes an awkwardly funny appearance whi—like Charlie Sheen’s sudden cameo in Being John Malkovich. Director David Slade gives the film an exceptional visual style which plays around with the R-rating just through camera angels, especially when he raises the camera slightly above a very squeamish scene. The twisted third act kicks up the action with a clichéd cat-and-mouse chase where the truth finally gets revealed, yet leaving Hayley as one of the most enigmatic, haunting villains ever filmed.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: Hard Candy will make you think about who the real victim is. Although comparisons could be made, this film is no Swimming with Sharks, which spells everything out in flashbacks. There aren’t any flashbacks here to lay everything on the table for you—instead, you must choose who to believe and what they’re not sharing about themselves. Clearly, Hayley wants Jeff to admit that he’s a pedophile, yet Jeff makes a valid point when he rhetorically asks her if he has ever done anything to hurt her in the past. The fact that a female overpowers a male, both physically and psychologically, goes beyond the expended gender stereotypes found in most films—not to mention the irony of a child overpowering an adult who behaves like a defenseless child.



IN A NUTSHELL: Unforgettable! A guilty, squeamish pleasure! One of the most shocking and suspenseful films of the year!

RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)

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