Hard Candy begins with footage of an Internet chat session that’s unfortunately probably all too common these days. The few lines of conversation we see show Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson), age 32, and Hayley Stark (Ellen Page), age 14, having an intimate online conversation. The two of them agree to meet in person in a coffee shop. Overshadowing their latte’s is a missing poster with a picture of another female teenager on it. Things are about to get bad — real bad. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say about this intense psychological thriller before wading into the realm of spoilers. If you have any interest at all in seeing this film, close this window immediately and go see it now. Then, come back and read the rest of this review.
[ Waiting … ]
Back already? Ok — but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Minor spoilers ahead.
In a twist M. Night Shyamalan (Sixth Sense, Signs) would be proud of, we learn within the first act of Hard Candy that the hunter has become the hunted. Hayley is not the innocent fourteen-year-old girl she pretends to be. As events unfold the battle, which is both mental and physical, escalates into all out war. Hayley has thought through her plan of attack and throws more than one curveball, although she may have underestimated Jeff’s will to escape — or simply live.
Most of the truly disturbing material is left to the viewer’s imagination — which probably makes it that much more disturbing. First time director David Slade does a good job at conveying his characters’ horror and pain through facial shots and quit cuts. It’s more artsy than your average Hollywood popcorn flick, but not enough that it distracts from the visceral on-screen happenings. The movie contains a few holes in the plot (the main one being how a 100lb fourteen-year-old girl can repeatedly move around and position the body of a 200lb unconscious man), but nothing bad enough to pull you out of the grip of the film.
Filmed over 18 days using only five actors, Hard Candy is a small film with a big bite. It’s one of those movies that will have you standing out in the parking lot discussing it with complete strangers — and, watching your kids on the Internet a little closer.