What a Girl Rants

It happens. Strangers who meet online meet up in person. I watch too many movies not to do the same. The action feels like walking into a movie plot. On one hand, you could step into the romcom realm of You’ve Got Mail. On the other hand, the scenario could play out as sour as Hard Candy.

The latter film unites two cyber strangers in a coffee shop after a teasing chat online. Their age difference: 18 years. Hayley is a cute 14-year-old teen, who sports a short boyish haircut and wide-eyed expressions. Like precocious girls her age, she thinks her youthful looks conceal her intellectual maturity. In an effort to dispel naïveté, she namedrops Zadie Smith as one of the authors she has read. Jeff Kohlver, the mature male she meets, is a professional photographer. He takes pictures of blossoming models and Hayley is flattered that Jeff is keenly interested in her. Still, it is undeniable that Jeff is thirty-two years old, although the man knows how to downplay his grown-up status. He is hip. He is cool. He is down with the young crowd because he has been to a Goldfrapp concert. Hayley cannot help but be impressed and eventually, she agrees to chill at the man’s crib.

Inside the bachelor pad, Hayley roams the house with bubbly curiosity. She checks out the photographs on the wall and barrages Jeff with questions about his job and his relationships with models. Jeff modestly asserts that he is a gentleman and a thorough professional, who respects boundaries when he is working with the opposite sex. Yet, one has to wonder as to why he goes through the trouble of impressing a 14-year-old girl? He welcomes Hayley’s girlie flirtation and allows her to drink alcohol. The whole scene has “uh-oh” written all over. In due time, a victim passes out and wakes up bounded to a chair.

This is where the movie quickly changes gears as the story turns upside-down. Two frightening possibilities emerge. Jeff might be responsible for a missing young girl and Hayley might be mentally ill. It becomes apparent that both players have their own diabolical game plan in mind. Unfortunately, the pair is not evenly matched and thus, the movie is less exciting. That is not to say Hard Candy is devoid of any tension. The film is intense. One infamous and tormenting scene had me squirming in my seat. Few movies can grip you in such sharp discomfort.

The best thing about Hard Candy is the acting. Ellen Page as the dubiously sweet Hayley is utterly shocking to watch. The pixie actress plays the part with so much tenacity and conviction that she completely commands attention. Patrick Wilson gives a more understated performance as Jeff, but no less effective. I am always second-guessing his character, because Wilson can be pleasant and creepy at the same time. I wish though that the movie explored the characters more in depth. Jeff and Hayley are so shady that they become so distant. I could not root for or sympathize with any of them. Even if they are not likeable characters, I was cheering for a good fight. Alas, the battle is mostly one-sided. Perhaps, my problem is that I expected a well-balanced thriller. It dawned on me that Hard Candy is more like a horror movie. Its monster or villain is relentless, invincible, and almost inhuman. If you have a sweet tooth for torture and malevolent perversity, I suggest you give Hard Candy a bite. If you want to step it up, I suggest you go find yourself a psycho online, granted you have the balls for it.

Grade: B+

Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Jennifer Holmes, and Gilbert John
Screenplay by
Brian Nelson
Directed by
David Slade
Rated R for disturbing violent and aberrant sexual content involving a teen, and for language