Original Review Date: 5/3/2006
Hard Candy achieves heights of tension and gore that very few horror movies ever come close too in this age of PG-13 and political correctness. What makes Slade’s film even more impactful is that you never see it coming. Hard Candy isn’t a horror movie, it’s a drama set between a 14-year old girl named Haley Stark (Ellen Page) and a 32-year old photographer named Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson). The two of them have met previously in an internet chat room, conversed for three weeks and decide to meet at a local coffee shop called Nighthawks for their first in person get-together.
This film, from its very first frame, is a cautionary tale but not the one that you will immediately imagine. You may believe that you know what’s going to happen and see the evitable coming but that sick fate isn’t to be. A darker, more twisted fate is in store for anyone that sees Hard Candy. This feat is achieved by great editing and camera work from its first time film director. Characters come in and out of focus not because Director David Slade is showing off but because it more effectively displays what’s going on in a particular scene. As the situations unfold and the vise is effortlessly turned tighter around our moral compass, we find out that the predator in this film has always been the prey.
Brain Nelson’s screenplay continually surprises the viewer with realizations about the two main characters. Ellen Page gives the kind of powerhouse performance that reminds the knowledgeable viewer of Evan Rachel Wood in 2003’s Thirteen. Like Wood, Page is a lock for a Golden Globe nomination for best performance by a female actress in a drama. Page controls and dominates most if not all of the scenes she is in. Listen very carefully to what Hayley says at the beginning of the film during her and Jeff’s initial meeting in Nighthawk. It’s very important to her underlying personality. Also of note in this film is Patrick Wilson. I knew I recognized him but I had no idea it was the characterless Raoul from 2004’s Phantom of the Opera that had turned in such a strong performance until after the film had ended.
David Slade’s Hard Candy is a movie about the dangers of meeting someone over the Internet and not knowing who or what they are. It’s first two acts are its strongest and most riveting. Its third act is more of a cat and mouse game with shards of what made the first two acts so memorable. It’s the film’s middle act, however, populated with squirm inducing scenes, which make the film so excruciating and unsettling. It is this act that will have the most people talking well after they’ve left the theater and logged back onto the World Wide Web.