Hard Candy

Hard CandyThis postmodern thriller, directed by David Slade and written by Brian Nelson, depicts a brilliant 14-year old girl, Hayley Stark, who has become close to a 32-year-old  photographer, Jeff Kohlver, via the Internet. Hayley is intelligent, but there is also no question that she is dishonest, a fact that becomes clear as the narrative unfolds.

The film opens with an IM conversation between Hayley and Jeff where they decide meet.  This happens within ten minutes of the opening credits and seems to indicate that a fast-paced film lies ahead.  Upon meeting, they quickly return to Jeff’s apartment, where it is revealed that Hayley’s innocent yet flirtatious nature is merely a façade, as for the duration of the film she tortures Jeff, accusing him of being both a pedophile and a murderer.

However, the swift pace of the opening scenes is not maintained throughout the film.  While I am not averse to deliberate pacing, the unpredictability of Slade’s timing made it difficult to preserve any tension the film produced.  The repetition of escape and recapture, coupled with prolonged scenes of torture, produced a creeping anxiety with the knowledge that there would be nearly two hours of this to endure.  This is not to suggest that the film is without thrilling moments, but many of these moments are produced by depicting extreme violence and other methods to provoke a bodily reaction, and one scene which will be especially difficult for male viewers to sit through.

This unevennes is not confined to the pacing of the film; it also permeates the cinematography.  Even before the scenes of torture begin, the successive and redundant collision of extreme close-up and medium shots make it difficult to watch. As the story continues, and the action begins to ratchet up, the photography switches to overly-spliced handheld shots that are nauseating to watch.  Perhaps ironically, as Jeff photographs Hayley in an early scene of the film, he insists that she not “do that phony music video crap.”  As I watched, I found it difficult to disassociate the camera work of Hard Candy from the over-stylization associated with music videos.  While some of the framing and spatial relations were intriguing, the aesthetics seemed to do little to enhance the narrative, and seemed to have been done purely for the sake of contributing "style."

Even with the constraints of an average script, Patrick Wilson as Jeff and Ellen Page as Hayley give very good performances.  The extremities of emotion portrayed by both characters throughout the film is impressive to watch, a great testament to the range of these two actors.  Unfortunately, the dialogue is rather lackluster. The comic interjections feel forced and the emotional outbursts of Jeff, his attempts to justify his pedophilia, seem condescending and sloppy, a weak effort to provide some motivation behind his actions.  The vigilante character of Hayley is so self-righteous and annoying that it becomes impossible to ignore her and be fully engaged with the film. 

While the film is not dreadful, it certainly has its share of flaws.  It is more enjoyable to consider the ideas presented, rather than engaging with the film itself, which shows that Hard Candy has insights to offer.  A thoughtful viewer is forced to consider which character is truly evil in this scenario, which is where most of my apprehension comes in, as a pedophile is portrayed as a sympathetic figure.  The intriguing discourse over the relativism of evil, although quite common to many postmodern texts, is a valuable issue to reflect upon; however, it doesn't save this film from it's own mediocrity.