Directed by David Slade
Produced by David W. Higgins
Written by Brian Nelson
Director of Photograpy Jo Willems
Music by Molly Nyman, Harry Escott
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page
2005/105 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Lionsgate Home Entertainment DVD
Most people don't like being manipulated. (I had originally planned on saying "No one likes being manipulated.", but then I realized that statement simply isn't true.) The feeling of being told what to do or what to think is unpleasant to most and some would say that it goes against our very nature. And yet, that's exactly how I felt when it came to the film HARD CANDY, both in terms of the film itself and the hype surrounding the movie. The mind-games played by the characters in the film don't end at the edge of the screen.
HARD CANDY opens on a computer screen where we see "Lensman319" and "Thongrrrl14" are chatting in a chat forum. The two agree to meet at a local coffee shop. Once there, we see that the two characters are Hayley (Ellen Page), a 14-year old girl, and Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a 30-something man. The two, who have clearly been chatting on-line for some time, immediately begin flirting and Jeff invites Hayley back to his house. There, Hayley finds that Jeff is a photographer who typically shoots very young models. The two chat and have some drinks. Then, suddenly, Hayley turns the tables on this man who she feels is an on-line predator. This duo are soon engaged in a mental and physical battle which escalates to places that neither anticipate.
HARD CANDY came out of Sundance and garnered good word of mouth. I had scanned reviews for the film and knew that it was supposed to be shocking and brutal. However, this didn't prepare me for just how physically violent and unrelenting the movie truly is. The plot of HARD CANDY is similar to that of MISERY, but the tone of movie comes closer to "exploitation" films such as LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK. The movie isn't necessarily graphically violent, but it doesn't pull any punches and some may find the film to be a harrowing experience.
Yet, the barbaric nature of the movie can't hide the manipulative nature of the film and the flaws in the story. At the outset, the rules of the film seem fairly clear-cut; young girl takes the offensive against a man who is apparently a pervert. But, as the film progresses, Hayley is presented as a flawed character as well. Therefore, we have two highly unlikable characters inhabiting 99% of this movie. Was this intentional? I think so. I have the feeling that writer Brian Nelson and director David Slade began the film with what appeared to be a clear moral choice and then began to skew that view as the movie progressed. Thus, the audience is made to struggle with the fact that they should like one character and dislike the other, but a grey area permeates the movie. I felt that from scene-to-scene the movie was attempting to push me in one direction or another, but it only succeeded in pushing me away.
The movie also distances itself from the viewer by presenting us with these two repugnant characters. As it's nearly impossible to like either of them, there is no anchor for the viewer. We are simply sitting on the outside watching these two characters go at it. We can't relate to them and it reaches a point where we don't care who wins. A similar ennui also arises in the sense that the movie is somewhat redundant. Despite the fact that the movie has an interesting premise and does offer some cringe-worthy scenes, watching two people in a house for 105 minutes is a tall order and the movie wears out its welcome during the third act. If the movie about 15 minutes shorter, it would be much easier to digest. The "shock ending" here is actually a bit too jarring, as it comes rather quickly and the movie suddenly ends. Yes, the viewer is left momentarily stunned, but then the "What the hell?" factor sets in and one longs for a more in-depth explanation.
As HARD CANDY takes place in essentially one locale, others things must take center stage (although the production design in the house is quite good). A lot of the weight is placed on the shoulders of actors Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. Wilson's role is much different from his turns in THE ALAMO, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, or "Angels in America", and he does a good job of going from sleazy to panicked. On the other hand, Page (who plays Kitty Pryde in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND), overacts shamelessly and thus makes her character even more difficult to relate to. Director David Slade does a fine job of using different angles and nice cuts to elevate the mood and make the most of the sets.
There's no denying the fact that HARD CANDY is a brutal and intense film which is not for the squeamish. But, it's also a flawed film that is too long, tedious, and unsure of its own direction at times. The movie is brave to lock two crazy people in a house and have them go at it, but this conceit isn't enough to hold our interest. I walked away from HARD CANDY somewhat disturbed, but mostly annoyed that the film didn't offer more.
HARD CANDY makes plans to meet us on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear. The picture does sharp a minute amount of grain, but it's not overly distracting. (And this is most likely a by-product from the amount of digital coloring done on the film.) The colors look fantastic as the movie features brilliant reds, pinks, and blues (again, done digitally). There was some very minor video noise, but no overt artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The use of stereo effects is quite good in this mix, and certainly adds to the film. Surround sound and subwoofer effects are mainly come from sound effects during shocking moments, but they are certainly noticeable.
The HARD CANDY contains a handful of extras. We start with a pair of AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first features director David Slade and writer Brian Nelson. This is a good chat as the two discuss the story and the making of the film. Slade talks about how the film was shot without getting two technical. A different perspective is provided by actors Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page on the second commentary. They talk about their experiences acting on the film, and give some first-hand info on their lives and careers. "Creating Hard Candy" (52 minutes) is a very in-depth making-of featurette. In fact, it may be too in-depth. Through comments from producer David W. Higgins, Slade, Nelson, Page, and Wilson, we get information on where the script came from, how it was developed, how Slade became involved, and the casting. But, there are too many awkward comments from Slade, who comes across like a modern-day Joe Cocker. Some of the information here is interesting, but it gets bogged down at times. In "Controversial Confection" (9 minutes), the cast and crew discuss the intense nature of the film and some of the more controversial scenes. The DVD contains 6 DELETED SCENES, which run about 11 minutes. There is some interesting material here, with some new ideas introduced into the story. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for HARD CANDY, which is letterboxed at 2.35:1.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©