Those upset by the ex-pedophile makes good story of “The Woodsman” may find consolation in “Hard Candy”, which is basically just a film about a pedophile that gets what he had coming to him all this time. While “The Woodsman” is basically about redemption “Hard Candy” is very much a one-sided revenge flick in the vein of “I Spit on Your Grave”, and “Audition”. Incidentally enough, both films with opposite depictions of pedophilia bear the same red riding hood metaphors. “Hard Candy” begins with the glow of a computer screen with two people chatting online and engaging in heavy flirting and finally, after a run around, decides to meet up. The two people in question are a fourteen year old named Hayley, and Jeff, a man in his thirties.
After a flirtatious meeting, and a tour of his home, Jeff persuades Hayley to model for his “portfolio” and falls unconscious while taking pictures and wakes up bound to a chair. Hayley is not the person he thought she was, and he’s horrified to discover she’s a vindictive girl who intends on making him pay, and explains she plans to perform some “preventive maintenance.” Is she a young victim bent on revenge, a rogue officer, a college student who is performing her own acts of justice, or simply an avenging angel for victims? That’s really up to you to see and decide. From the opening scene of the computer screen cutting to a coffee shop, you can instantly feel the tension rising.
Slade draws that out through little plot points pointing to “Missing” posters of young girls as we watch our cast mingling at the shop and discussing basically superficial topics that will eventually lead to danger. “Hard Candy” is all about impending horror, and the hint of things to come, and the build-up is perfect. Jeff is a surefire sexual predator, and Hayley is definitely an innocent enough young girl who bears an obvious attraction to Jeff. But upon the plot twist, the story takes on a whole new life, and it’s a grueling practice in suffering. Hayley herself is an enigma, and probably one of the most intriguing characters in a thriller I’ve ever seen, she’s an intense character and much of that mystique and charisma is brought on by the emergence of the utterly excellent acting of Ellen Page, a newcomer to the US.
Page, a Canadian actress, gives what should be considered the performance of the year as basically two personas of one character. Her character Hayley is a multi-faceted and consistently intelligent character that knows the psychological head games Jeff is capable of and first seduces him, then engages in a ruthless cat and mouse game, and then, the fun begins. Wilson’s performance is equally excellent as the man who finds he’s in way over his head and instantly tries to discover ways to outwit Hayley and get out of the situation in one piece. Slade’s slick imagery, paired with the utterly ballsy story and character exploration makes “Hard Candy” one of the more original and grueling films to come out in years and I loved it. It’s very rare I long to watch a film for such a long time and when I actually catch it, it meets my expectations and somewhat exceeds it. “Hard Candy” achieved it all and more with excellent performances, great direction, and an original story.