The subject of internet paedophilia is one which, despite being prevalent in the media, is yet to have reached the big screen in a major way. So it seems about time for a film such as Hard Candy to arrive, but, in terms of cautionary tales, it’s less The Woodsman and more Fatal Attraction.
Hayley (Ellen Page) is a precocious 14-year-old who meets Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a charming 32-year old photographer, in an internet chatroom. Their chats soon translate into a meeting in a coffee shop. Hayley’s flirtation intrigues Jeff and her constant insistence that she is more mature than her age furthers his interest. She soon pushes him to invite her back to his and while there she mixes them some drinks. Jeff suddenly falls unconscious and wakes up to find himself at the mercy of a tyrant.
From the very first image, Hard Candy manages to burrow itself under your skin and stay there for the duration. The subject of underage internet relationships is an insidious one and the film pushes the right buttons to make sure the message is hammered home. The initial flirtation is creepy and once the film switches into even darker territory, the audience, along with Jeff, are unaware where we are heading.
It’s important for me not to divulge too much of what transpires over the day within which the film takes place. Needless to say, it’s nasty stuff, relentlessly nasty in fact. It’s a film that will shake even the most hardened viewer, but, for those willing to take the journey, it’s a gut-wrenching and powerful ride.
There is actually very little violence shown but the film insinuates so much more than what we can see that it’s just as effective. There is one scene, which I won’t reveal, that will go down as one of the year’s defining moments. It’s a painfully drawn out, almost unbearable act of degradation that had every audience member, including me, squirming in their seats. Be warned.
Ellen Page gives a frighteningly raw performance as the victim turned aggressor and delivers one of the most amazing breakout roles for years. Her switch from vulnerability to villainy is breathtaking. Patrick Wilson also cleverly makes us constantly question his intentions and together they make for an electrifying duo. It really is a two-hander and there are only a few other minor roles in the movie. The conclusion is somewhat muted given what has come before but still as dark as would be expected. There are also a ton of holes in the film but it’s grip is so tight, they don’t pose much of an issue.
Hard Candy is a film which is to be experienced, rather than enjoyed. It’s a rough ride but one which keeps you gripped to your seat, uneasy with anticipation at what might happen next. Its morals are somewhat skewed and, interestingly, anti-paedophilia groups are already using it to further their cause. But, taken without the moral subtext, it’s still a vicious little thriller that will stay with you for longer than you may like. Dont be fooled by the name; because there’s nothing sweet about this one.