You’d be hard pressed to find a touchier subject than adolescent sexuality. 14-year-olds are going to be exploring their sexuality whether by themselves or with others, but the prospect becomes much thornier when one of the participants is “of age” and the other isn’t. Is it rape? Can it ever be considered truly consensual? Is there ever the possibility of a positive experience for everyone involved?
These are some of the interesting questions briefly considered by Hard Candy until they are summarily dropped and replaced by a sadistic little revenge story. Hayley (played by a 15-year-old Ellen Page) is 14 and flirting online with Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a 32-year-old photographer. Both are clear on each other’s age but nonetheless agree to meet at a coffee shop. Further flirtation leads to a drive to Jeff’s art deco home. Soon the vodka bottle is out, as is the camera. And right when you think you know what’s going on Jeff wakes up from a drug induced blackout and finds himself tied to a chair. See, Hayley is not your average nerdy-cute bookworm. Her talents extend to stalking, knot tying, and crime scenes. And then there are her knife skills.
Hard Candy becomes a two-person ‘play’ of sorts where Hayley confronts Jeff with accusations of everything from kiddie pornography to molestation to murder while Jeff desperately pleads his innocence and begs for mercy. Director David Slade manages to keep things moving expertly despite the one set, two character set up and the HD photography makes stylish work of the candy-colored walls and fashion prints that decorate the space. Page and Wilson both manage to acquit themselves well despite a script that frequently lapses into dialectics. As the action becomes more and more visceral I was less forgiving of the clumsy speechifying placed in Hayley’s mouth. By the end she’s nothing less (or more) than a precocious teenage version of Hannibal Lecter. Unfortunately, the more Haley becomes a true ‘monster’ the less interesting the film ultimately is.