A 32-year-old man takes home a 14-year-old girl he's on the Internet, with surprising results.
With the media frequently trumpeting the dangers of allowing your little ones to talk to strangers in online chatrooms, to say nothing of several well-documented cases of teenagers eloping with their much older internet friends in recent years, it was only a matter of time before someone made a film on the subject. Thus we have Hard Candy, a taut, tense two-hander which not only tackles this thorny subject matter with consummate skill, but also happens to be a powerful, thought-provoking thriller.
In fact, it’s all the more impressive given the fact that it’s down to Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page to carry the bulk of the film, with the focus on the central duo and the claustrophobic setting inviting obvious comparisons to Audition and Death And The Maiden. Wilson — last seen as the rather wimpy Raoul in The Phantom Of The Opera — comes into his own here, but it’s Page who’s the real revelation, switching effortlessly between naive child and creepy, vengeful Lolita.
However, it’s what you don’t see in Hard Candy that makes it so effective. The film’s central scene — involving a spot of amateur surgery — may have certain audience members crossing their legs, but is all the more wince-inducing for the fact that you see virtually none of it happening, with the focus instead on the nigh-hysterical reaction of our protagonists. And although Hayley is convinced that Jeff does more with his young fashion models than simply take their picture, we have only her word that he’s the twisted paedophile she claims he is — since no truly concrete evidence of his apparently dodgy behaviour is ever shown on screen.
Hard Candy works superbly as a character-driven piece, rather than one which has to resort to graphic violence
and standard-issue thriller clichés to get its point across. What’s more, the did-he-or-didn’t-he? element is bound to divide audiences — Jeff comes across as a likeable guy, one who dispels the stereotypical image of the internet paedophile as sleazy and/or socially awkward — and it’s all too easy to end up feeling sorry for him in spite of his alleged crimes. Like many movies which focus on just a few characters and a handful of settings, this would make a great stageplay — but as a cinematic experience, it delivers the goods.
A cracking little thriller which makes you think even as its keeping you on the edge of your seat. Its not always easy viewing, but Hard Candy is an intelligent, challenging film which deserves to be seen.