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Hard Candy - Review

Hard Candy

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentaries; Deleted scenes; Making of documentary.

WHEN it was released in cinemas earlier this year, tense psychological chiller Hard Candy was hailed as one of the most shocking of the year – and one of the most intelligent.

Difficult to watch, yet fiercely controversial, the film takes the form of a cat-and-mouse game between a potential paedophile and his potential victim. Yet just who is the predator and the prey.

The film begins as thirty-something photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson) arranges to meet 14-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page) – aka internet chatmate Thonggrrrl 14 – in a crowded cafe. They chat, flirt and head back to Jeff’s place to indulge in the unthinkable.

But Hayley is not the girl she seems and it’s not long before this contemporary Red Riding Hood (in a red hoodie) has turned the tables on her wolf, drugging him and strapping him to a table to extract the truth from him in the most painful way possible.

For as Jeff struggles to get a grip on what’s happening to him, he’s suddenly faced with the prospect of being castrated in DIY fashion by his young tormentor and desperately pleading his innocence before the chopping can begin.

Sound uncomfortable? You bet. Yet crucially David Slade’s movie never seeks to sensationalise its subject matter or to become too explicit. Rather, it’s a confrontation that’s very much played out in the mind.

Just why 14-year-old Hayley carries such vengeful fury is never really clear, while the charismatic Jeff could just as easily be a troubled man who gave in to a moment of weakness – as much out of curiosity than personal longing. Both are complex individuals, sympathetic one moment and terrifying the next.

Men will be crossing their legs through several excruciating moments, while women may feel torn between empowerment and fear.

Brian Nelson’s provocative screenplay remains taut throughout and continually finds new ways to keep viewers guessing, while throwing in the odd twist to keep them on their feet.

While the performances are exemplary from both leads, effortlessly toying with viewers’ perceptions of them and invoking sympathy and rage in equal measure.

The only thing that prevents me from hailing it as an absolute classic is the slightly drawn-out conclusion, when both characters begin to behave erratically and the film fails to end as emphatically as it might. The wonderful insecurity and doubt that exists early on is also diluted somewhat, thereby depriving the experience of the sort of ending that may have lingered longer in the memory.

Up until that point, however, it’s both compelling and uncomfortable viewing that tackles a sensitive issue in thought-provoking fashion. You won’t forget it, or Hayley, in a hurry.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 103mins