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12 reviews, 107 user ratings

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Hard Candy
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by David Cornelius

"Two parts sheer brilliance, one part contrived mess."
3 stars

The first few minutes of “Hard Candy” manage to produce an excruciating amount of suspense, and yet not a single act of violence is committed, or even threatened. The tension comes not from what will happen, or what the plot tells us might happen, but simply from what we think we know could happen. The scene gives us a smart, charming, naïve 14-year-old girl, who is meeting for the first time someone she knows from the internet: a smart, charming, friendly 32-year-old man. The older man does nothing to indicate danger; in fact, he is overly polite and makes repeated assurances that nothing could come of such a relationship.

We know better, because we have seen the news. This is how very, very bad things begin. We know it, the filmmakers know it, and surely the characters must know it, right? And that is the inescapable terror that envelops us in the opening scene of this film. The whole thing unfolds like a meet cute in some slight romantic comedy, the only difference being the age gap. It’s the sheer lack of overt horror that ultimately makes it so terrifying.

The dread intensifies when the man takes the girl back to his house (ah, that’s where he has an MP3 copy of her favorite band, you see, and sure, she’d love to head on over to check it out). There are moments where you want to reach through the screen and rescue this girl, you want to scream and shout and hope his neighbors hear. But we are helpless, stuck watching, and watching, and watching.

I will not reveal what happens next, although it is giving nothing away to inform you that “Hard Candy” is a revenge fantasy for the internet age. The film, written by TV movie vet Brian Nelson and directed by music video helmer David Slade (both make their feature debuts here), takes its cue from such works as “Audition” and “I Spit On Your Grave” - both wildly varied in quality and style, to be certain, but both, along with many others, united by the theme of a woman unleashing torture. “Hard Candy” is nowhere near as violent as these films (and nowhere near as unwatchably trashy as the vile “I Spit On Your Grave” and its grindhouse imitators). Instead, it opts for psychological torment; there is physical abuse, to be sure, but the mental anguish is much more prevalent.

It helps that Nelson and Slade tap into the general sense of anger that overtakes anyone whenever reports of child abduction and molestation lead the evening news. The girl gets to do to this creep everything you wish you could do yourself - hell yes, let’s spray some bleach down the guy’s throat, and then hand me something sharp. But the film restrains itself, refusing to go for the cheap thrills that made such revenge exploitation flicks so grimy. “Hard Candy” is looking at vengeance from an intellectual perspective, and the film is all the better for it.

More importantly, Nelson’s screenplay is most interested in playing the psychological thriller game. This allows for some clever moments throughout, including one stretch of the film where it becomes unclear if the man is in fact a serial pedophile, or if he’s just some jerk who made the wrong choice just this one time. Of course we cannot call him innocent - it’s obvious from the start what his intentions are - but we have to wonder if the girl has taken things too far.

And then come the moments where we’re not rooting for the man, but we are watching with great curiosity and even a bit of suspense: will he find a way to escape? Hitchcock pulled the same thing in “Frenzy,” getting the audience actually concerned for the villain. Slade does not match the heights of Hitch, of course, but the idea is the same. We become curious despite ourselves.

The movie has fun with toying with the viewer, but Nelson goes off track by the final act. We come to a point in the film where (most) everything can be resolved, eerily, shockingly, but acceptably. And then the screenplay keeps going, backtracking over itself, eager to pile on more and more thrills and switcheroos and such. The girl even calls what she’s doing “a game,” and that’s ultimately what the film itself becomes. As her plans become more and more convoluted, the movie loses us; we suddenly realize that the whole affair is little more than a plot-twisty number that winds up neck-deep in illogical goings-on. We stop caring for the characters and their battle of wits, and we start asking questions: if this was her master plan, why waste her time doing this and this and this? Why not just cut to the ending? “Hard Candy” collapses in its final half hour, as Nelson and Slade become desperate to deliver complicated thrills, unaware that they had us when all they were giving us was devilish simplicity.

Worse, the movie even goes for groan-worthy pretension in the final scene, which finds the girl dressed in a red hoodie. Get it? Hey! Get it?! Ugh. It’s one of those wow-aren’t-we-so-clever moments that brings everything to a screeching halt. Again, simplicity was all we needed, but the filmmakers insisted on pounding the point to death.

But even when the script goes all kablooey and the direction gets too full of itself, the brilliant cast is always there to keep things on target. The girl is played by a then-17-year-old Ellen Page (now 19, she’ll next be seen in the next “X-Men” sequel), who delivers a knockout mix of youthful innocence and deadly intelligence. She’s desperate to be dangerous, and her age only makes her more so.

Patrick Wilson (“The Alamo,” “Angels In America”), in the role of the older man, is even better. He’s perfectly chilling in the early roles, where his threat always hides under the surface; when the tables are turned and he becomes victim, we waivers between violent outbursts and helpless terror. His fits of panic, his cries of regret, his speech about his disturbed past, they’re all enough to hook you but good.

These are two amazing performances - which helps, considering not only the script’s third act problems, but also that the whole thing’s set up like a stage play, confined to limited sets, heavily dependent on dialogue. Page and Wilson not only make it work, but they keep it working no matter what.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11287&reviewer=392
originally posted: 04/27/06 22:41:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2006 Florida Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/05/18 morris campbell intense & disturbing 4 stars
8/24/15 David Hollingsworth An intense, and squirm-inducing modern classic. 5 stars
4/09/15 stanley welles compelling, well-written and admirably performed 4 stars
4/15/14 Charles Tatum Page doesn't quite ring true. 4 stars
12/04/12 Mason Very Very original! direction is superb and original plot 4 stars
10/16/12 Jacqui Intelligent, thought provoking, rivetting. Ellen Page is amazing. 5 stars
8/25/12 Faraz hard movie to watch 4 stars
8/15/12 Robin Utterly grim and pointless. We get it, pedophiles are bad people. See 'Freeway' instead. 2 stars
6/08/12 liker of good movies Wothless 1 stars
11/09/11 matthew thompson dalldorf Don't forget AUDITION! 1 stars
11/09/11 Thompson ...or 'Freeway.' 1 stars
4/19/11 matthew Stick with 'Death And The Maiden' 1 stars
1/11/11 Moose Rapper "Hayley was impossibly smart..." To bad the wasn't. 1 stars
3/21/10 nathan b great directing, acting and editing makes up for its lacking plot. 4 stars
3/12/10 brian That's one heapin' steamin' helpin' of vigilante justice there. 5 stars
9/28/09 jpwcpa Hayley was impossibly smart, and impossibly strong, for a 14-yr-old 2 stars
9/01/09 SpaceGoat Self-indulgent, ghoulish and sadistic, the target audience clearly being man-haters. 1 stars
7/07/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Something every moralist will want to masterbait while watching. 1 stars
6/19/09 jeanne Ellen Page was incredible. It goes around, it comes around... 5 stars
3/28/09 GRAPELGANGER Awesome movie... great ending 5 stars
3/25/09 mariah the ending was awesome 4 stars
1/08/09 Lori good movie but pretty odd and nasty 4 stars
1/08/09 Anonymous. ellen page is awesome. she can be this freak, and she can be juno... 4 stars
10/29/08 Matt C. Wow. So many reviewers who feel Hayley was too cruel to the pedophile/murderer. Great film/ 5 stars
9/25/08 Timothy Kirkland Smart writing, cast of 5 people, very off center 4 stars
9/13/08 Claire ok, did you even watch the movie?? she DIDNT cut his balls off!!! stop complaining. 4 stars
9/07/08 Rod Good acting, rubbish directing, dodgy plot, not worth sitting through 1 stars
9/06/08 m Brilliant movie. Great acting - Ellen Page can be a monster. She doesn't cut his balls off! 5 stars
8/11/08 Heather A 14-yr-old who can do surgery? Gimme a break! Totally unbelievable! 1 stars
7/12/08 Paul's2¢ Two pervs - one who doesn't kill, one who doesn't cut. Vigilante hot air for simpletons. 3 stars
6/30/08 Chris Don't like torture movies (like Hostel - yuck!) and this stinks too, despite good acting. 1 stars
6/11/08 DK A great film, understanding of tension is apparent in Slade's direction. 5 stars
4/29/08 art THIS IS ONE SICK MOVIE 1 stars
4/29/08 dan i think this film was wierd, i thought it was pretty gd but didnt think he deserved 2 die 4 stars
4/08/08 Michelle The ending is lacking. Maybe flashbacks of the girl that was killed would help tie it? 3 stars
4/06/08 bob total shit, with shit ending, and he moved pretty well concidering his balls where cut off, 1 stars
3/28/08 Lawrence Peabody Excellent performances make up for the flimsy plot; a flawed but memorable thriller 4 stars
2/03/08 Joseph Becker A movie that makes one ask who is the problem? The "pedofile", or those quick to judge. 4 stars
1/13/08 David Pollastrini could of used some gore but great and scary 5 stars
1/12/08 TreeTiger Craaaap-o-la 2 stars
1/04/08 Cheryl who's more messed up? . the prick teasing torturing chic or the prick teasee 5 stars
10/19/07 eleanore compelling-- original 4 stars
10/13/07 mr.mike edge of your seat suspense , marred by an unconvincing ending 4 stars
8/06/07 Chris Hansen You're not on Dateline.....bitch!!!! 5 stars
7/23/07 fools♫gold God, does this pick up! Perfect length, and explains the perfect amount! 5 stars
7/18/07 DETMURDS The "Left" must have hated this movie,...let kids be kids is what I say here! 3 stars
7/10/07 Michael its was supensefull and not as cliché as mxt movies now a days. 5 stars
5/28/07 Beverly Such an unusual plot. Left me thinking for hours, for days. Ellen Page is a phenomena. 5 stars
5/16/07 Diane I agree with the film critic. Manipulatingly provocative yet badly written, & overdirected. 1 stars
5/15/07 Mackelby I had a hard on from the very beginning, but could never really get off to this. Tease... 3 stars
4/16/07 bob Interesting...would have liked more explanation as to how 'Haley' knew what she knew..... 4 stars
3/22/07 TreeTiger It stunk really bad - stay away from this steaming pile of hot pooh..!! 1 stars
3/11/07 Patterson At some point, the rants become tedious and lose their inherent creepiness.Way too overdone 3 stars
3/06/07 Stanley Thai A very good and disturbing film. 4 stars
1/18/07 MP Bartley Has its moments but too studied, overwritten and overdeliberate to be truly provocative. 3 stars
12/31/06 Maggie Wow. A must-see. 5 stars
12/26/06 Agent Sands Amongst the top form of comeuppance films, torture endurance films, & battle of wits films. 5 stars
12/23/06 K. Sear Wow, there is actually such a thing as a movie that desperately NEEDS a twist ending. 1 stars
12/20/06 ALDO FINALLy A CURE for pediphiles...They will never look at children the same way again 5 stars
12/14/06 T. McGregor This had me squirming in my seat. Fantastic performance from Ellen Paige. 4 stars
12/08/06 malcolm vague; hard for me to believe a 14 y/o can be that malicious and conniving 3 stars
11/29/06 Joanie incredible 5 stars
11/19/06 Carson This movie is brillant. Ellan Page is going to be huge. 5 stars
11/19/06 Bevan It's intense for the most part and against the conventions of most mainstream films 4 stars
11/15/06 Elveran A movie about two disturbed people. And a pointless story about how cool torture is. 1 stars
11/14/06 chelsea wow i can't really find words to describe it wow 5 stars
11/09/06 DarkEnchantress it sucked! Im into blood and thrillers, but this just was not worth shit! 2 stars
11/08/06 Bitchflaps Redundant offal masquerading as a "provocative psychological thriller" *yawn* 1 stars
11/06/06 Indrid Cold I'm ashamed to admit it, but Ellen Page is freaking adorable. 4 stars
11/01/06 Dissappointed Castration didnt happen! WORST ENDING EVER! NOT JUSTIFIED/VERIFIED! Missed chance 2B Great! 1 stars
11/01/06 TeenGuy My fav. movie EVER, makes me wanna do it... 5 stars
10/30/06 ES Good watch, but I can see Ellen Page getting on audiences' nerves rather quickly 4 stars
10/19/06 Henry Una excelente película que incomoda, particularmente a nosotros los hombres 5 stars
10/13/06 lauren I really didn't know how to think but it left me thinking for hours 4 stars
10/11/06 Yazzluv I thought it was pretty good...I loved the color palet and the dialog 4 stars
10/09/06 Danny Intense. Very intense indeed. 4 stars
10/08/06 peta press Hate to state the obvious; this is a Nazi film, anti-paedophile instead of anti-semitic!! 5 stars
10/07/06 Giselle ortiz Exelente 1 stars
10/02/06 Drdanny If it makes you squirm, it's doing its job. 4 stars
9/25/06 Rich Very well executed, thought provoking twists and turns that keep you unbalanced. 4 stars
9/21/06 Joe K One to get you talking. Maybe it shows what should happen to all pervs? Loved it! 5 stars
9/19/06 action movie fan intense and scary--haylaey is the predator-- 5 stars
9/17/06 Oilfinger Preposterous sadistic rubbish, utterly unbelievable, with a miracle recovery that reeks 1 stars
9/16/06 Duncan Wrong issue to use for a cheap thriller.... 1 stars
8/13/06 Brian O'Neill Extremely original thriller/horror film with two brilliant performances. Forget Saw II. 5 stars
7/31/06 Jimmy0h I was in a cold sweat!!! 5 stars
7/29/06 c0oki3z Weird but okay.. 4 stars
7/03/06 mike b excruciatingly engrossing 5 stars
6/22/06 vicki Its total crap 1 stars
6/17/06 Don Paco A glorification of torture for the PC crowd: torturing is OK, as long as it's done by girls 1 stars
6/04/06 mary this movie is too boring to be disturbing and too much suspension of belief is required. 1 stars
6/02/06 San Lamar oh my god 5 stars
5/05/06 martha philpotts tremendously thought provoking 5 stars
5/01/06 Ole Man Bourbon Amusing at times, but not much to it. 3 stars
5/01/06 David Awful-- awful boring that is. Could have been done in about five minutes max. 1 stars
4/29/06 Sabrina Unsatisfying and insults the audiences intelligence 2 stars
4/27/06 Kenneth D. Robin this may be one of the worse movies that I have ever seen. It makes very little sense 1 stars
4/24/06 brendan can someone tell todd the word is 'penchant' not pension. using it twice irritates 3 stars
4/22/06 Mase Orignial daring filmmaking. A movie to squirm to and think about 5 stars
4/14/06 Ronald Pottol intense! 5 stars
4/13/06 Roldan Din Pretentious! Pseudo-intellectual at its peak! 2 stars
3/28/06 Jennifer nelson incredible 5 stars
4/11/05 Elliot Brilliant and compelling 5 stars
2/07/05 J. Cantor A MUST SEE! 5 stars
1/24/05 Chris Gonsalves Freaky N' Cool 5 stars
12/13/04 SANJA EXELENT WRITER 5 stars
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  14-Apr-2006 (R)
  DVD: 19-Sep-2006

  16-Jun-2006 (18)

  13-Jul-2006 (R)

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  David Slade

Written by
  Brian Nelson

  Patrick Wilson
  Ellen Page
  Sandra Oh
  Jennifer Holmes

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