A revenge dream tale for the ctrl-alt-delete crowd, Hard Candy is not for the faint of heart. It's Saw meets Extremities meets Ghost World--creepy from the start but lacking in some credibility.
As a thriller, the film grinds its teeth and drives its heels into the ground, focusing on a bloody battle between a 14-year-old sociopath and 32-year-old pedophile. Cherubic Hayley (Ellen Page) meets fashion photographer/sex troll Jeff (Patrick Wilson) at a coffee shop after flirting on the Internet. Jeff is the type of criminal who has pictures of underage girls hanging on his walls, but he's suave and sophisticated. Sensing a live one, he invites Hayley back to his apartment to take pictures and get intimate. Hayley, who talks like a woman twice her age, has different intentions. She's on to Jeff's aberrant tendencies, and they make her angry--very angry. In fact, Hayley's rage is so powerful, she's planned an elaborate payback strategy to emasculate the poor guy--both physically and emotionally. The film twists and turns toward an ending.
There's an imbalance problem when a young-adult actor has to play opposite--and be an equal to--an adult. Page, a 19-year-old Canadian actress who's starring in the upcoming X-Men: The Last Stand, doesn't have the gravitas or life experience of an older actress. When she reels off her vindictive revenge lines, it's hard to believe her intensity. She can't match naturalism with Wilson, who earned an Emmy nomination for his performance in HBO's Angels in America. Wilson is eerily charming as the pedophile, unlike the simmering, prohibitively weird restraint of Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman. Scenes with Page and Wilson feel at times like acting, even if the script's punch (by USC professor Brian Nelson) is top notch. And who's that Golden Globe winner popping up in a last-minute cameo? It's Sandra Oh, in her last pre-Grey's Anatomy role, as the nosy neighbor.
Hard Candy drew attention at Sundance 2005, provoking discussion about its morality. First-time British director David Slade has a music-video background, working with Tori Amos, Aphex Twin and System of a Down, so stylistically, the shaky, frenetic digital camera work underscores the Red Bull bloodstream of the film. Candy evokes stunning violence, especially with its elegant opening-credit segment, reminiscent of American Psycho. But Hard Candy also has a few fatal conceits which sink its credibility. First, how can a 14-year-old girl attend high school and live a double life as a vigilante? And the final intense confrontation between Hayley and Jeff seems contrived. Their dialogue slows the momentum when it is needed most. Still, the subject matter is fairly provocative, especially for this digitized age. It will perk up your ears.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.