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A smart, charming teenage girl, Hayley probably shouldn't be going to a local coffee shop to meet Jeff, a 30- something fashion photographer she met on the Internet. But Hayley's ready to have fun, and soon she's mixing screwdrivers at Jeff's place and stripping for an impromptu photo shoot. It's Jeff's lucky night--until his vision blurs and he passes out. Turns out Hayley isn't as innocent as she looks.
For more about Hard Candy and the Hard Candy Blu-ray release, see Hard Candy Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 30, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Odessa Rae, G.J. Echternkamp
Director: David Slade
» See full cast & crew
Hard Candy Blu-ray Review
Ellen Page is nothing less than amazing in the disturbing 'Hard Candy'.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 30, 2010
In an age where taboos are smashed seemingly daily with little or no fanfare, it's perhaps comforting to realize, at least relatively speaking, that there are still a few forbidden behaviors that will raise the ire of most "normal" people. Certainly pedophilia is in the Top 5 of these. There's a certain dichotomy, as has been long noted, in how people view older men dating or even marrying much younger women than vice versa (though that's recently obtained some gender equality with the advent of "cougarism"), but when the "much younger" gets into minor territory, all bets are off and the standard response is a much deserved gasp of horror. For that reason alone, it would probably be more astute of me not to state how much I love Ellen Page, albeit in a completely professional, platonic capacity. It's probably more requisite than ever of me to qualify my admiration for this amazing young woman given that in 2005, when Hard Candy was released, she was a mere sprite of 18 or so, while I was. . .considerably older than that. Page is the heart and soul of Hard Candy, a disturbing little independent film that plays out largely as a two character cat and mouse game, where the audience is initially misled about who exactly is the prey and who the predator. While Page's costar in this psychological thriller, Patrick Wilson (Angels in America, Watchmen), also does fine, if less nuanced, work, Hard Candy is a showcase for Page, who in this film gives the sort of viciously inflected performance that should have garnered her an Oscar nomination two years before her acclaimed (and nominated) turn in Juno.
There really isn't much to the plot setup of Hard Candy, and that is both one of the more visceral elements of the film as well as part of its problem, at least for those who like to critically work through logical inconsistencies. The film starts with a computer screen, on which an internet chat is taking place between a man and what seems to be a young girl. Quick cut to an espresso shop, where Hayley (Page) and Jeff (Wilson) finally meet face to face. Hayley is an apparently innocent young thing, a 14 year old with a major crush on Jeff, a 30-something photographer. The "eeww" factor is almost palpable in this opening scene, which sets Jeff up as an internet predator. What keeps the film slightly off kilter is the knowingness of Hayley. This is not just "any" 14 year old; she's wise beyond her years, articulate, crafty, and not above more or less inviting herself back to Jeff's lair. So much for years of parental warnings, evidently. Hayley freely admits, only half jokingly, that "four out of five doctors" find her insane.
Back at Jeff's apartment, Hayley is supposedly blown away by the plethora of model photographs adorning Jeff's walls. She wants to pose for him. Is this girl insane? Is she playing directly into the hands of a sexual predator? Almost instantly, everything you've been led to believe, with an impending lump in your throat and pit in your stomach, is turned upside down, as Jeff finds himself drugged, then bound and tied, and Hayley's real motivations become frighteningly clear.
The best part of Hard Candy is without a doubt the incredibly fierce performance of Page, who makes Hayley both brittle, vengeful, and surprisingly vulnerable. Without giving away too much of the plot's machinations, while Hayley's motivations are honorable and entirely clear, her methods are indeed tinged with madness, and Page creates one of the most powerful characterizations in recent film memory. Wilson is left to scream and plead, which becomes increasingly desperate in the film's totally disturbing middle segment, when Jeff is about to undergo the most frightening operation to any male, all under the untrained surgical hands of Hayley.
Hard Candy doesn't waste much time putting its characters in their places, turning them topsy turvy, and then letting the cat and mouse game play out. Where the film falls woefully short is in its ultimate logic. What is Hayley's connection to the revenge scenario being played out? Hints are dropped, but nothing is ever made completely clear. More importantly, how did she track Jeff down? How did she plan for several eventualities which seem, on their face, to be "surprise" twists the film takes? Most importantly, in terms of how Hayley's plan plays out, what point is there to the long, and very, very disturbing "surgical" segment? If her goal is the ultimate comeuppance portrayed in the film's denouement, what is she accomplishing with this gambit? Is it mere debasement of Jeff? The suspension of disbelief necessary to totally buy into Hard Candy's premise may turn off more discerning viewers, but even that caveat can't totally negate the film's power and presence, especially with the visceral performance of Page in the lead.
Kudos need to be paid to Hard Candy's director, David Slade, who went on to direct the third Twilight outing, Eclipse. Here, in Hard Candy, he never resorts to gore or really any gratuitous violence at all. Yes, there are occasional scuffles (and a time or two more than that), but especially in the film's more gruesome segments, Slade takes a step back, framing shots through walls or providing some sort of screen, giving the audience a bit of distance from the mayhem. This is so completely counter to how most modern slash and dash directors approach scenes like this it's really a brilliant strategy. And you know what? The scenes play better, with more impact, than they ever would have had Slade showed everything "up close and personal."
If ultimately screenwriter Brian Nelson (scenarist of the upcoming Devil) tries a bit too hard to make Hayley the poster girl for pedophilia comeuppance, at least he's erring on the side of the angels. Hayley really isn't that commendable of a character if one stops to think about it too carefully. If she had the goods on Jeff all along, wouldn't a quick call to the police have achieved her aims just as handily? Nelson and Slade provide a telling one-off at the film's conclusion. Hayley leaves the scene of her "crime" (if it can be called that) in a little red riding hood. The Big Bad Wolf has been dealt with quite effectively.
Hard Candy Blu-ray, Video Quality
The bulk of Hard Candy plays out in Jeff's hilltop home, a Los Angeles ranch style domain filled with that lustrous bleached yellow light so redolent of southern California. The film's AVC encoded 1080p image (in 2.35:1) can therefore seemed blanched with low contrast at times, but a closer look reveals a wealth of detail and excellent sharpness. Slade post processes some shots, typically segues or other transitions, with an at times grainy ambience and desaturated color. However the bulk of the film, while tilted toward the yellow end of the spectrum, offers a pleasing image that reveals everything from individual sweat droplets on Jeff's tortured visage to the clinging red gelatin on Hayley's scalpel (don't ask). Flesh tones are accurate (if, again, on the yellow-pink side of things), and detail in Jeff's lair is well defined.
Hard Candy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
What do you look (or listen) for when approaching an audio mix, lossless or otherwise? Do you insist on knock your socks off sonic effects, or are you content to let the film's aims chart their own course. If you're of the former persuasion, chances are you'll be underwhelmed by Hard Candy's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. If, on the other hand, you let yourself relax (if that's possible, given this film's ethos) into the very subtle soundscape provided on this Blu-ray, you're apt to come away quite pleased with the results. There are a bevy of really excellent effects on this track, from panicked heavy breathing which surrounds the listener, to some nice panning effects, as when Jeff, trapped in an office chair, attempts to maneuver his escape. Actual ambient effects are few and far between, but the film's dialogue is handled cleanly and crisply, albeit mostly front and center, with some great attention paid to sonic differences in close-ups and midrange shots. Ostensibly "little" effects, as when Hayley sorts through a rock garden to discover a hidden safe, play out extremely well here, albeit very subtly. This is certainly not "summer blockbuster" sonic material, but it's incredibly effective on its own terms.
Hard Candy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Lionsgate has done a good job on all of its new budget priced Blu-rays in terms of supplements. Here we're provided with:
Hard Candy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you can get past some gaping holes of logic, you're in for one hell of a roller coaster ride with Page's commanding performance. Hard Candy may not be especially easy to watch, but it certainly heralds the arrival of a major young actress. Recommended.
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