Hard Candy explores the topic of internet stalkers, lurking in chat rooms to find their next victims. While there are millions of people who find love in cyberspace, some also end up raped or in body bags. Hard Candy is not anti-internet and does not try and make a case for boycotting computers, but it brings to light an odd predicament: sometimes the prey and predator are not easily discernible.
The movie opens with an online chat between 14-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page) and 32-year-old photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson). After a lengthy, flirtatious dialogue they decide to meet at a local coffee shop to see what happens. Hayley appears in a black tank top with a red hooded cardigan—no doubt an homage to Little Red Riding Hood—and Jeff is handsomely dressed in a suit with sophisticated, black-rimmed glasses. The camera quickly flashes to a missing girl poster tacked onto a bulletin board wall.
The new friends head over to his slick apartment where they drink screwdrivers in the kitchen, crack jokes, and wax philosophical. They seem to be hitting it off, but their relationship is about to be turned upside down, inside out, and flipped on its head. After Hayley starts dancing on the couch, asking to be photographed like the teenage models he has plastered across his walls, Jeff gets dizzy and falls on the floor—a response to being drugged. When he wakes up, he is tied to a chair with the hateful eyes of a troubled young girl glaring back at him.
Hard Candy is not at all what it seems, which makes for a rather intelligent and frightening thriller. During the opening scenes it seems clear that Jeff is the bad guy, trying to impress someone who has barely started puberty, but it quickly becomes apparent that Hayley is no angel either. She beats him, searches every inch of his apartment for clues of pedophilia, and—in a scene that will make men convulse in horror—threatens to castrate him. Quick as a whip, Hayley is as smart as someone twenty years older, with the craziness of someone rightfully locked up. Then again, she is torturing someone who may be involved in a missing girl case, so does that make her a vigilante or a sociopath?
The movie is subjective, and it doesn’t paint a lazy picture of who is good or bad; it encourages us to think and draw our own conclusions, while continuously shifting our sympathies. The cutting-edge script by accomplished playwright Brian Nelson, combined with the flashy directing style of David Slade, creates a movie that is both brisk and wordy—a rare, effective outcome. Wilson (“Angels In America”) excels at playing a deeply disturbed everyman, and Page (X-Men 3), is both captivating and terrifying as she, too, joins the dark side. Hard Candy deals with uncomfortable subject matter that will make most people cringe, but never avert their eyes. It is grueling to watch, and equally as impossible to forget.