Hard Candy

Year 2005

Patrick Wilson   as Jeff Kohlver
Ellen Page   as  Hayley Stark  
Director - David Slade
Screenwriter - Brian Nelson

Hard Candy is one of those movies that's intense enough to be termed "edgy". The first thing that that came to mind while I watch the opening minutes of the film was the time someone recorded me "acting" in high school. From those brief thirty seconds of replay I learned the valuable lesson that I have no screen presence and can't act. Patrick Wilson's skill made me relive that moment of epiphany in my life. Was it Wilson's insipid dialog or his dishwater delivery? Maybe it was the talking in a stairwell sound? I was underwhelmed and wondered what I was doing watching this film.

I knew that the film was about a middle aged man hitting on a young girl and that she turned the tables. I also knew that there was some extra secret involved. It didn't sound pleasant. But I was told that I should watch the movie, so I overcame my initial desire to turn the thing off and soldiered on.

The movie is almost entirely about the exchanges between dirty middle aged man Jeff Kohlver (Wilson) and his target of lust Hayley Stark (Page). Page is a better actress than Wilson is an actor, but that's not saying much.

I'll try to avoid spoilers, but I might not be successful. In detail, Hayley agrees to meet Jeff at a coffee bar. She then manages to talk him into taking her home. Once there, she drugs him, ties him up, torments him, tortures him, and interrogates him. All in the space of one afternoon.

Jeff is bound, has bleach sprayed in his mouth, is electroshocked to unconsciousness twice, and strapped to a table for emasculation surgery. Why? Because he wanted to seduce a fourteen year old? Because he had pictures of something that was illegal? Because Hayley suspects him of something having to do with a girl who is missing? Yep. The last.

Early on you realize that Hayley has linked Jeff to a girl who is missing. So, she proceeds to extract a confession from Jeff regarding his relationship with this girl. Methods used in Guantanamo are trivial compared to what Hayley has in mind. In fact, she may be related to Torquemada because her desire to hear a confession outweighs any sense of her being able to distinguish right from wrong.

And that's one of the problems with this movie. No one, except maybe a woman leaving a ladies' room, is anything less than despicable in this movie. There is no one to root for. The writer probably figured that the audience's sensibilities would be towards the fourteen year old Hayley and away from Jeff.

The problem is that anything bad that Jeff did is only hinted at while the things that Hayley does are provided in detail. Am I supposed to want Jeff to suffer castration because he seduced a young girl once? How many years ago did that take place? And that first girl, now a woman who looks to be about the same age as Jeff, turns out to still care for Jeff. Was Jeff eighteen at the time?

Just for comparison, I checked out the age of consent around the world. Do you know that it's twelve in Angola? The United Kingdom is pushing for fifteen. That's fifteen years old. In the UK.

I have to admit that seeing Calvin Klein ads, the ones where underage boys and girls are used as sex objects, fills me with disgust. I'm torn between rage and disgust towards the parents of JonBenét Ramsey. But fourteen, and that's the age that is being used in this movie, is the legal age of consent in Austria, Germany, Portugal and Italy. I've got to admit that although I thought Jeff was scum, I also thought that he wasn't the worst person in the movie.

Jeff even states that he only seduced one underage girl back when he was just starting out. Combine that statement with that fact that no evidence in the movie is presented to countradict him, and you have to believe him. The one underage girl that he loved and still has an wall of adoration for is someone that he still has a relationship with. No absolution for Jeff, but no sense of evil incarnate regarding him either.

Oh, there are mentions about some pictures and how, at least according to the lying psychopath Hayley, "there are federal laws" against the contents. But I don't know what that means. Hayley, if you haven't figured it out, is not grounded. If she says, "Blue," she might be talking about a color, the sky, or the distance from reality to her mind. "How far is it, Hayley?" And she'll answer, "Blue," only with a diatribe of anger at the world and maybe less than a dozen sailor's expressions bracketing the single word.

And even if you believed Hayley's comment, that doesn't exactly narrow things down. Aren't there federal laws preventing you from carrying a tube of toothpaste onto an aircraft? It's probably against federal law to transmute lead into gold. Was that the subject of the photographs she got from a safe?

Page is all over the...uh...place(?) with her delivery. Sometimes she's spot on and sometimes she looks lost. More about that later.

As for Wilson, there's one time when he's in the zone. There's a scene where Hayley's getting ready to castrate him. (Yep. You read that right.) His fear and reaction are enough to make you believe it's really happening.

What else is wrong with this movie? Hayley's dialog and knowledge. An I.Q. is a measure of your mental age compared against your physical age. As smart as you should be? That's 100. Twice as smart as your age? You've got a 200 I.Q. Hayley's is about 400. There's no way a fourteen year old can have the opinions of a sixty year old concerning the legal system, judicial defense, medical practices, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, nature versus nurture, Jean Seberg, and Roman Pulanski.

There's a line uttered by Hayley. "Just because a girl knows how to imitate a woman, does NOT mean she's ready to do what a woman does." The writer forgot his own quote when he had Hayley be a sixty year old in a fourteen year old body. This could explain why sometimes Page looks unsure of her dialog. It's too old, mature, and subtle for her to grasp.

If this film is supposed be to a harangue against pedophiles, it failed to elicit hatred for them. It failed because it didn't prove that Jeff was a pedaphile. Oh, Jeff had issues. Jeff deserved to go away for a long, long time. But the whole pedophile thing? Probably, but it's never proven.

There's a final revelation that perhaps is intended to justify Hayley's behavior. It doesn't and only makes her more psychotic than ever. This is The Last House on the Left stuff, only sleazier.

Jeff deserves to be punished, but not to the extent that he is and in the manner in which he is. Hayley's torture of Jeff is simply not justified even after taking the the big revelation into account. If there was supposed to be some moral ambiguity about the ends justifying the means, then this movie failed to get that point across. If Hayley is a heroine, then the only moral of this story is that psycho women are deified for some reason.

Or maybe the writers tried to say that there are worse people than pedophiles? My mind can't go there but it's one explanation why the script was written so that you really end up hating Hayley by the end of the movie.

Want a good psychological game of cat and mouse? Check out the 1972 version of Sleuth with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. It's better than Hard Candy for the acting, the plot, the tension, the sound, the back-and-forth advantage, the moral ambiguity, and even the lines.

In Hard Candy, there's profanity and blasphemy. Fortunately, there's a lack of nudity. It's an intense movie about people you don't want to meet, muchless want to care about for nearly two hours.

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