Hard Candy

By  · Published on October 3rd, 2006

Release Date: September 19, 2006

Sick, twisted, unnerving, I have never seen anything like it.

It begins as if to seem so innocent, a film about boy meeting girl. But even from the start, you know something is up. And even though you know something is going to happen that may be a tad bit twisted, there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the way this film unravels.

That is how Hard Candy gets you; it draws you into a relationship between Hayley and Jeff, born of a man’s lust for teenage girls and bred by a scheming young lady’s intent to seek vengeance on behalf of his prey. Jeff (Patrick Wilson, Phantom of the Opera) lures in young Hayley (Ellen Page, X-Men: The Last Stand) with sweet chatting over the web and arranges a meet and greet. All seems well as they come together in public, allowing flirtation turn quickly into a trip back to Jeff’s home. There he proceeds to get her all liquored up, but not before things take a wild turn. It turns out that Hayley has drugged Jeff, turning predator into prey, her potential molester into her prisoner. It is then that Jeff realizes that this is no ordinary 14 year old girl, and her motives run deeper than just tying him down and making him beg.

The first thing that jumps out about this film is the visual style of director David Slade. He encapsulates his audience in this relationship by using close, wide angled shots to continually keep both characters in frame. And from the moment the film opens to the closing credits, the audience is trapped in this unique predator/prey relationship, unable to look away for even a moment. The bold colors and sharp camera movements keep us interested as the actor’s on screen play out this disturbing game of cat and mouse.

The second standout of Hard Candy is the performance of young Ellen Page. It is a performance that exceeds award worthy, so good they wouldn’t dare give it an Oscar. She delivers the ultimate balance between the strong, intelligent and twisted side of Hayley and the vulnerable little girl that exists below the surface. As well, her ability to say so much with silence delivers unto the film a tormenting aura. Patrick Wilson also shows balance, but mostly just a balance for Page’s brilliance. He is witty and charming in the beginning, but his character deteriorates into a despicable ounce of humanity as the film rolls on, so much so that you may find yourself rooting against him even though he is the captive.

In the end, the story has no winners, except for the audience, who gets to experience a true gem in suspenseful filmmaking. Hard Candy is, to say the least, absolutely disturbing. It unravels some of the most unnerving depths of human behavior; and thrusts us into a world that most people would rather forget about; then it haunts us with an unforgettable twist. It grabs a hold of its audience and never lets go, even after the credits have rolled. It is just one of those films that will keep you up at night wondering, does this sort of thing really happen in our world?

The Upside: The performances are top notch, the story is like nothing I have seen before and the film is wonderfully hand crafted by an obviously skilled director. What more do you need?

The Downside: The subject matter is hard to swallow, making the film that much more intense.

On the Side: Hard Candy was filmed in less than 18 days and was made on a budget of less than $1 million dollars.

Film Grade: A

DVD Grade: A-

The DVD does not include a ton of extra features, but what is there is fantastic stuff. There is an entire (long) feature that digs deep into how the film came about, from start to finish. It shows off the amazing visual style of director David Slade as well as how the script came about through producer David Higgins and writer Brian Nelson. The features are sparse but they are insightful, adding great value to the experience of the film.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)