Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hard Candy: A Digital Monologue

I love movies that provide a means to empower and inspire certain sects of audiences. They come to us, shining in the darkness, when the endless tidal wave of cinematic schlock rains upon us, trying to convince the mass society that "thinking" and "being challenged" are bad things; that we should only concern ourselves with disengaging mental-melts like Meet The Spartans, The Final Destination (Really? Really? the FINAL destination? What were the first three? Pit stops?), as well as any Eddie Murphy entry over the last five-to-seven years.

I like to think that everybody, I don't care who you are, can stumble upon something in the entertainment industry and become latched to the thing -- can bond with it oh so well -- almost as if the creator produced that whatever-it-is (be it a movie, a book, a video game, a song, etc) with that one person specifically in mind.

For me, it was a movie called Hard Candy.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees that red hoodie as an
allusion to the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

I've been exposed to a great number of films over the past few days, but out of all of them, I felt the need to talk about this one, first. Hard Candy was released in 2005, starring a pre-Juno Ellen Page and a pre-Watchmen Patrick Wilson (with post-Double Happiness and during-Grey's Anatomy Sandra Oh).

I can summarize the plot of Hard Candy in about a single sentence: Hayley, a 14-year-old honour student gets lured over the Internet and into the arms of Jeff, a 32-year-old "photographer" -- but when the two head back to Jeff's place, the oh-so-familiar and traumatizing story of the owl hunting the mouse pulls a complete and unexpected 180:

The mouse hunts the owl.

I'm not sure if the screenwriter of this movie was himself affected by online predators, or if he knew someone pretty close who was -- but as a victim of long-term chat room pedophilia myself (among other things ... but let's not get into that) -- at the very age that Ellen Page portrays in Hard Candy ... well, I'm not sure about you guys, but I don't think it was an accident that during a weekly Double-Feature night, one of my close friends just so happened to bring the DVD on a whim, when internally I recently started coming to terms with things that happened in my past. Somebody "upstairs" was watching out, in my opinion.

Happy birthday, Mister f*cking President.

Anyway, I'd like to talk about the movie itself. It's almost two hours, and a good 95% pure dialogue -- another 75% taking place inside Jeff's studio condo. And yeah, okay, you can say "95% dialogue" about most movies, but Hard Candy comes off differently. Before we started watching it, my other close friend said that the movie could have easily been pulled off as a stage play; and while at the time I didn't understand what he meant, I sure do now.

There are only six characters in the entire film: Haley, Jeff, Sandra Oh's character who appears briefly in two scenes (which is hilarious in my opinion, because she gets third billing on the DVD case), a girl from Jeff's past (who you barely see at all), a cashier, and an uncredited extra who comes out of a diner bathroom.

Okay, technically, three characters, but the fact remains that it's a very manageable cast of characters conveying an intense, brain-wringing plot through a scant two locations (three, if you include the roof and yard of Jeff's condo). Hard Candy wasn't written for the stage, but its just as basic and enveloping. Honestly, the first time I watched it, I was expecting the screen to go black and the words "INTERMISSION" to appear in big blocky white letters around the mid-point of the film.

Nite Owl: Mild-mannered child molester by day,
crime-fighting manic depressant by night.

The acting in Hard Candy is absolutely phenomenal. It's no surprise that Page and Wilson have secured themselves in their acting careers now. It's actually pretty scary how well Ellen Page comes across as a dependent, dopey fourteen-year-old in the first act of the movie, only to turn on one heel and show us how effing vengeful and bat-shit insane her character really is. It also doesn't help that she actually looks like a kid -- especially in this movie -- but again in Juno. Patrick Wilson is set up to be this smooth-talking, persuasive sort of person, and my God, does he play it well. Even past the point when it's very evident what he is and what his intentions are, it's somewhat difficult at times to not be sympathetic towards his character.

I'm surprised Hard Candy isn't a mainstream title, and I have a feeling that has to do with it being an indy film, sadly. I'd heard the name of the movie mentioned a few years ago, but had no idea what it was until last Sunday evening when I saw it for the first time -- and the same for my dad when I showed it to him a few days later. And what strikes me odd about this movie is that it's filed under the Horror genre. If you ask me, it's anything but a horror movie -- in fact, it should be listed high up there with those other inspirational films like Forrest Gump and Pursuit of Happyness!

I mean, technically, I guess -- Hard Candy could be a horror movie -- if you're a pedophile, that is.

As terribly awkward and painful that position must be,
Ellen Page sure looks like she's sleeping well enough.

For me, Hard Candy is basically To Catch a Predator tripped up a notch by a healthy dose of steroids and acid. I honestly can't recommend this movie enough. Go watch it. The message of this film is a brilliant one not only to child predators, but to any idiot who thinks they have the right to step over illegal/unmoral boundaries: Don't chew the hard candy, because you just might break off a tooth.


  1. I've been meaning to rent it, but it kind of scared me.

    Maybe I'm wrong; maybe it'll be empowering.

    Excellent review, my friend!

  2. Oh yeah, dude. Rent it if you get a chance! It's a pretty powerful movie.