I love movies that provide a means to empower and inspire certain sects of audiences. These films come to us, shining in the darkness, when the endless tidal wave of cinematic schlock rains upon us, trying to convince the mass society that “thinking” and “being challenged” are bad things; that we should only concern ourselves with disengaging mental-melts like Meet The Spartans, The Final Destination (Really? Really? the FINAL destination? What were the first three? Pit stops?), as well as any Eddie Murphy entry over the last decade.
I like to think that everybody can stumble upon something in the entertainment industry and become latched to the thing — can bond with it oh so well — almost as if the creator produced that whatever-it-is (be it a movie, a book, a video game, a song, etc) with “you” specifically in mind.
For me, it was a movie called Hard Candy.
I’ve been exposed to a great number of films over the past number of years, but out of all of them, I felt the need to talk about this one, the most. Hard Candy was released in 2005, starring a pre-Juno Ellen Page and a pre-Watchmen Patrick Wilson (with post-Double Happiness and during-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh).
I can summarize the plot of Hard Candy in as such: Hayley, a 14-year-old honour student gets lured over the Internet and into the arms of Jeff, a 32-year-old “photographer” — but when the two head back to Jeff’s place, the oh-so-familiar and traumatizing story of the owl hunting the mouse pulls a complete and unexpected 180:
The mouse hunts the owl.
I’m not sure if the screenwriter of this movie was himself affected by online predators, or if he knew someone pretty close who was — but as a victim of long-term chat room pedophilia, myself, at the very age that Ellen Page portrays in Hard Candy … well, I don’t think it was a coincidence that of my close friends just so happened to show me the movie on a whim, at a time when I was secretly only starting to come to terms with my own past.
Anyway, I’d like to talk about the movie itself. It’s almost two hours, and a good 95% pure dialogue — another 75% taking place inside Jeff’s studio condo. And yeah, okay, you can say “95% dialogue” about most movies, but Hard Candy comes off very much as though it could have been an adaption of a one-set stage play.
There are only six characters in the entire film: Haley, Jeff, Sandra Oh’s character who appears briefly in two scenes (which is hilarious in my opinion, because she gets third billing on the DVD case), a girl from Jeff’s past (who you barely see at all), a cashier, and an uncredited extra who comes out of a diner bathroom.
Okay, technically, three characters, but the fact remains that it’s a very manageable cast of characters conveying an intense, brain-wringing plot through a scant two locations (three, if you include the roof and yard of Jeff’s condo). Hard Candy wasn’t written for the stage, but it is just as compelling. Honestly, the first time I watched it, I was expecting the screen to go black and the words “INTERMISSION” to appear in big blocky white letters around the mid-point of the film.
The acting in Hard Candy is absolutely phenomenal. It’s no surprise that Page and Wilson have secured themselves in their acting careers now. It’s actually pretty scary how well Ellen Page comes across as a dependent, dopey fourteen-year-old in the first act of the movie, only to turn on one heel and show us how effing vengeful and bat-shit insane her character really is. It also helps that she looks like a perpetual eighth-grader, which makes the whole thing feel even more terrifyingly authentic. Patrick Wilson is set up to be this smooth-talking, persuasive sort of person, and my God, does he play it well. Even past the point when it’s very evident what he is and what his intentions are, it’s somewhat difficult at times to not be sympathetic towards his character.
At around the time I first watched Hard Candy, I’m not sure it had much of a following, but I’m glad to see that over the years it is finally starting to get the recognition it so deserves. However, one thing that does strike me odd about this movie is that it’s filed under the Horror genre. If you ask me, it’s anything but a horror movie — in fact, it should be listed high up there with those other inspirational films like Forrest Gump and Pursuit of Happyness.
I mean, technically, I guess — Hard Candy could be a horror movie — if you’re a pedophile.
For me, Hard Candy is basically To Catch a Predator tripped up a notch by a healthy dose of steroids and acid. I honestly can’t recommend this movie enough. Go watch it. The message of this film is a brilliant one not only to child predators, but to any idiot who thinks they have the right to step over illegal/unmoral boundaries: Don’t chew the hard candy, because you just might break a tooth.