If you read my LADY IN THE WATER review you might remember my tangent about a thing I saw on TV called “To Catch a Predator.” Well, HARD CANDY I guess must be the big screen adaptation of that show, but it also works as a prequel to X-MEN PART 3. Ellen Page, the girl who made a bitch out of Juggernaut, does the same thing here with a guy she believes is a pedophile. But instead of “Shadowcat” she’s called “Thong-Girl” and instead of walking through walls her power is tying up a guy and threatening to cut off his balls.
The trailer for the movie was really unsettling because it cleverly stuck to the first 20 minutes of the movie, when Thong-Girl seems to be an innocent 14 year old girl who thinks she’s more adult than she really is, getting in over her head by going to meet a much older guy she flirted with on the internet. The thing was creepy as hell because Ellen Page looks much younger than most horror movie victims, and the guy is a photographer who APPEARS to be a normal guy and therefore you figure must actually be a deranged pervert. You get the idea that the movie is sort of an I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE type scenario where the guy rapes her or tries to rape her, or she finds out he killed her friend, or something, and then she enacts a vicious revenge.
But that’s not quite the case. It turns out the whole thing is a trap from the beginning. The movie poster, which shows her standing in the middle of a bear trap, is a more accurate description of what’s gonna happen. They meet and there’s alot of innocent innuendo. It’s a believable portrayal of a kid like that because she has to name drop the bands and authors she likes as an attempt at adult sophistication. But soon after she gets to the house you realize that’s all an act. She doesn’t really care about impressing him. You realize that right around the time she’s drugged him and tied him up.
Part of what’s cool about it is that you don’t really know how guilty he is. I mean, you don’t have any respect for a dude who brings home a 14 year old and lets her drink screwdrivers in his kitchen. But he hasn’t done anything yet. Maybe he’s not as bad as she thinks? You want to side with her, because you’re against pedophiles, but she seems crazier than he does. And movie convention asks you to side with him, because he’s the victim here. He’s the one who seems normal, and is tied up and screaming because he, like most of us, doesn’t want to get his balls cut off.
You have to decide how much you agree with this style of justice. Should he really be tortured, maybe killed? Shouldn’t there be some kind of trial first? Why couldn’t she just have the Dateline NBC guy come out and interview this guy, then the cop dressed up as a bush tackles him and they arrest him? Or is she right, is he actually a murderer? If so maybe there should be a couple extra cops in the bush costumes.
It’s a clever movie because the setup is so simple. There are only five actors in the whole movie, and three of them are only in one scene. One of them is a guy who sells them candy in the beginning. Sandra Oh is in it, she sells them cookies. Most of the movie is just the guy tied up and the girl psychologically tormenting him, trying to get him to admit that he’s a pedophile. It could almost be a play. Even the setting is minimalistic, a really clean and uncluttered house that’s mostly white and solid red (this guy probaly liked DMX’s black and white apartment in BELLY). Sometimes during a horrible moment the camera will pan across and the lens will be filled with the red of the wall, like some kind of abstract representation of horror. (Or more specifically, an abstract representation of a guy getting his balls cut off.)
But the clever part is that the setup is simple but the ambiguity makes it more complicated. Is the victim the bad guy? Is the tormentor the hero? Should we be rooting for or sympathizing with anybody? (Maybe Sandra Oh?) How did this girl find out what she knows about this guy? What made her so crazy? Why does she take this so personally? Has she done this before? Will she do this again? What is she thinking at the end? And why is it called HARD CANDY? Is this somehow related to GINGER SNAPS?
This isn’t fun like a good slasher movie. And it’s a little too much of a gimmick to be truly horrifying. But it definitely made me uncomfortable. If you like being uncomfortable maybe you will enjoy it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.