Though described as a “thriller,” this is a horror movie in the purest sense, and an emotionally draining one at that. A man engages in a horrible crime, thinks he’s gotten away with it and discovers he’s being outwitted, outsmarted, and tortured by a vindictive little bitch about half his size.
The irony being that the character Jeff is a good looking man with the ability to pick up any woman he wants and he chooses young children, and yet he’s not above spouting the same crap excuses we hear from all pedophiles, too.
Slade’s film is indeed a horror movie. And then I had to see “Hostel Part II” to review, and it was pretty much the same experience as the first time.
Obscenely overrated, recycled, and pretty much every bit of plagiarism, uh–sorry, homage you can expect from a Tarantino flick. One of my primary gripes with “Hostel Part II” beyond Roth’s whiny message to fans on his MySpace was the fact that “Hard Candy” is sometimes lumped with the rest of the titles in the torture fad of the last three years, and that’s a shame. Thankfully, Slade’s film has managed to come out on its own and not fall into that pit, but often I hear that comparison and I can just cringe.
It’s a revenge film, it’s a thriller, and yes it’s a wonderful antithesis to “The Woodsman” which is still heavily controversial for its supposed sympathizing with the ex-pedophile it centers in on. Watch these two back to back, and they’re really the same movie. A pedo is being tortured for his crimes. And comes across a young girl in a red hood who teaches him a lesson.
“Hard Candy” has a little bit of a “Dexter” vibe to it, which is not surprising that it premiered on Showtime when it landed on the cable doorstep. It features a vindictive psycho who traps and tortures another psycho because they feel they’re providing a service to humanity. Like “Hostel Part II,” it’s still considered a part of that “torture porn” (yes, I hate the term, too) sub-genre, but that’s such a wrong classification.
Unlike “Hostel Part II,” David Slade’s “Hard Candy” is intelligent, has a point to make, garners excellent performances, breaks down the perspective of who the psychos are in this dichotomy, and also garners heavy debate among audiences. Did the molester deserve this punishment? Was Hayley much more dangerous than Jeff? Wasn’t Jeff also a victim of a crime?
And while, yes, it does feature some rather grueling torture, Slade composes the scenes in such a great way where it’s just as painful for us as it is for our character Jeff. Slade really knows how to draw every bit of pain on us and really manages to succeed in helping us feel for Jeff just a little.
It also helps that Patrick Wilson is an excellent actor and really pours himself into this role. His frantic begging and pleading while Hayley has him strapped down to the table is just a marvel to watch. This guy is a Broadway performer and he’s convinced me that he’s a slimy pedo who really shouldn’t get his balls lopped off.
Upon receiving “Hard Candy” in the mail, I watched it immediately, and then again about a week later, and it doesn’t lose its punch. The quintessential virginal character played by Ellen Page provides a beautiful dynamic off of Wilson’s sly and charming wolf in sheep’s clothing, and clearly this is a character based horror film that could easily have been performed on stage.
One of my favorite scenes involves the always likable Sandra Oh. While many thought her scene was tacked on, I thought it was a perfect background on Jeff. The man lives in a quiet neighborhood filled with families, has an attractive neighbor who seems rather intent on seeing Jeff when met by Hayley, and… has a daughter who sells Jeff Girl Scout cookies quite often.
Slade’s film reverses the age old setting for a potential sex crime and asks us to choose sides. While you root for Hayley who isn’t the thin airhead she starts off as, the acts she commits are a bit on the cruel side, and you eventually feel guilty for cheering her on, while Jeff is an instant villain who you will definitely feel some sense of sadness for as the film progresses. Slade sees to that.
And of course Hayley acts as a catalyst for Jeff’s self-realization. Isn’t he just another pedophile? Will Jeff ever actually admit that? A pedophile never actually admits they’re pedophiles, and Slade adds a humanistic approach to both characters and keeps all themes and the narrative in strict shades of gray the entire time. We can never be sure if Slade is rooting for Jeff or Hayley. Even after my tenth viewing, I’m still not sure.
I won’t say that this movie is about a taboo since pedophilia isn’t a taboo, only a filthy crime, but Slade definitely breaks down characters, morals, and means to an end, while asking us to reflect; and the audience may be afraid to when all is said and done.
The message here is clear, even when playing the predator, there’s always someone over your shoulder. Secrets don’t always stay hidden and many times they can just come to bite you in the ass… and balls.