After three weeks of chatting with the thirty-two year old photographer Jeff Kohlver over the Internet, fourteen year old Hayley Stark meets him in the Nighthawks coffee shop. Hayley flirts with him in spite of the age difference and proposes to go to his house. Once there, she prepares a screwdriver for them and Jeff passes out. When he awakes, he is tied up to a chair, and Hayley accuses him of pedophilia. Jeff denies the accusation, and Hayley begins to torture him in a cat and mouse game. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Both cast and crew members have denied that the costume choices for the character of Hayley were intended as a reference to the children's story 'Little Red Riding Hood.' See more »
When Jeff is struggling to get the bonds off when he is on the castration table, his hands and wrists are all red and there are heavy red marks all over his wrists. When Jeff confronts Hayley and he falls down (on the roof), his wrists are completely clean and no marks are seen at all. See more »
The acting was solid, the direction was intelligent, the script was intense, and the topic is controversial. All these elements, however, didn't quite converge to something that was coherent and compelling. It lacks the premise, credibility, and balance that any good film should process. This may be a result of difference of expectations that originate from the actors, the director, the writer and the audience.
Let's start with us, the viewers. Despite the topic, I believe "Hard Candy" is simply a film that entails a two-hour power struggle between two individuals. Pedophilia set the plot in motion, but did not tightly define the roles, which were purposely left ambiguous from beginning to end. No one knows if Jeff is really a child molester, and Hayley may either be a vigilante or a psychopath. The shift in physical and psychological domination between the two should have been our interest. Instead, our judgment on the characters were tainted, either as a result of the controversial topic, or by the Liongate marketing department. So, when the film started, we already charged Jeff guilty of pedophilia.
This could have been compensated with a strong screenplay. However, Nelson managed to ignore natural and reasonable character development in the script. He did so mostly to strengthen Hayley's character. In the end, Hayley became the preacher, and Jeff the violated alter boy. Hayley's lines consisted mostly of monologues on quoting national statistics and degradation of social morals. Jeff, on the other hand, was only allowed to utter incomprehensible verbal jabs when Hailey takes a break from one of her soliloquies, provided that he wasn't on a gag. Maybe working with such a controversial topic, one has to play the party line to what is politically correct. Nelson really wanted the audience to be on Hayley's side, regardless how sinister her character is, but this does not justify a totally lob-sided screenplay.
And the acting amplified the imbalance of the roles. Page and Wilson are no stranger to acting. I think their performance stand very well on their own, especially considering how little Wilson has to work with in his portrayal of Jeff. The disparity between the two characters made their efforts futile in salvaging the script. Page, convicted and energetic, dominated every scene in the film, whether she was in or not. On the other hand, Wilson, being tied up and gagged for most of the film, was reduced to acting scared. Sandra Oh's brief appearance was a reminder how contrived the whole film has become.
Finally, there was the direction. Spade's background in directing commercials clearly showed. Most of the scenes are static, and transitions were limited to fade-in, fade-out, and panning across a black wall. He also had the propensity of using bright color everywhere. He certainly knows how to capture my attention for 15 seconds, but I felt comfortable after prolonged exposure. To his credit, he had made the best out of what he had to work with, namely, a lob-sided plot line, a minimal head count, and a confined space.
In summary, Hard Candy started with a good premise, good casting, good direction and a keen audience. Page and Spade could chalk one up for this film, but the film itself has failed to become bigger than the sum of its parts.
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