Paedophiles are a risky subject. There’s an obvious sentence if ever I wrote one. The Woodsman (see my top 10 films of 2005) proved you could handle the subject and produce an uncomfortable, but captivating piece of film, with Kevin Bacon turning in an outstanding performance as a man whose internal struggle is enough to trigger sympathy, despite his actions. Hard Candy manages to trigger sympathy too, only the struggle isn’t so much internal, more ‘oh Christ why is there an ice pack on my balls?!??!’
To be honest, I went in expecting a so-so film, with the only interest coming from just how far they can push the torture levels. Before you brand me a scary freak, my interest in torture is a) limited only to the make-believe land of film, and b) out of amusement at the thought of slightly geeky filmmakers giggling in a little room and trying to come up with the most extreme scenes they can imagine. Having read hints at what Hard Candy had to offer, I was quite intrigued. But not expecting lots.
So hurray to low expectations, because what I got was a film that, yes, had some good ol’ torture, but also had fleshed out characters and issues you could really sink your teeth into. Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a creepy bastard, with very little going for him. Hayley (Ellen Page) is a feisty fourteen-year-old with witty banter and a hardened moral streak. So how, at some parts, can you find yourself rooting for Jeff? Who is the hero in this piece? The terrified paedophile or the psychotic girl with a scalpel? Of course Jeff is a bad man. You know that. He deserves what’s coming to him. But then you suddenly realise you’re willing him to grab that phone and make an escape. What’s going on?!
Probably the film’s strength comes with its leads. Patrick Wilson’s sheer terror, alarm, frustration, pain – it’s all etched out on his face so vividly you wonder if it’s really just props they’re using down there. And Ellen Page (Kitty from X3) is definitely one to watch. She’s younger than me (19), very very good and so far hasn’t joined the likes of Scarlett Johansson on my ‘girls who are younger than me and more successful who I hate with a passion’ list. She has just the right levels of confidence without the smug arrogance of Scarlett. Sorry – shouldn’t start down that road or this review will take a very different turn.
Anyway, as to the torture, this is what should be shown to all film school students as a guide of how to elicit moans from audience members without showing anything being done to, erm, ‘members’ on screen. There is very little in the way of gore. It’s all suggestion, and it’s plainly enough. Jeff’s face, her gentle assurances (“this might pull a bit”) and an occasional noise. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but fantastically well done.
Of course there’re some flaws. A few plot holes, maybe the ending was a bit flat, maybe some of it was a little bit silly. But this is a bold effort from relative new-comers to film (David Slade as director, and Brian Nelson as writer). Though it didn’t overwhelm me, it still offered more to chew over than I was expecting. Hard Candy – less boiled sweet, more Chewitt. It gains CF0, and has an extra point for being more than just a torture film. CF1.