Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hard Candy

I really wouldn't recommend watching this film when you are recovering from a hangover as the trendy shaky camera shots, which may add tension to a scene but also jar a tad as well (makes your head spin as well!). I had heard about the controversy surrounding this film and its subject matter. What made me laugh was when I was buying my ticket the woman behind the counter smirked and asked me whether I was over 18. I replied, "Yeah, by about 18 years"! Sorry but I digress....

The film starts with emails going back and forward to "Lensman" and "Thonggrrrl" and they agree to meet. Thonggrrl is Hayley a cute and clever 14 year old and she meets Jeff a 32 year old photographer. Both start entering playful and flirtatious banter and it seems obvious some kind of sexual frisson is developing. Jeff flatters and charms Hayley by saying how clever and mature she looks but it is false as she does looks 14. They go back to his place under the pretext of seeing a bootleg copy of a Goldfrapp concert. Jeff's house has a very respectable pad full of mod cons and photos of young models strewn on his walls. They chat and things become potentially sexual. They mix drinks though Hayley tells him she prefers to mix her own drinks and mixes his. Jeff starts to try and photograph Hayley until he passes out.

It is at this stage you start to understand Hayley's intention and Jeff's has awoken to his worst nightmare. "I told you, never allow anyone to mix your drink"! says Hayley to a bound Jeff.
The lighting has gone from sunny colours to cold blues. This represents the change in tempo and turn of the tables, so to speak. You don't know what Hayley has in mind for Jeff except it involves "maintenance surgery"!

What originally started as banter now becomes much more charged. I found the dialogue and the narrative rather stagey and sometimes lacked flow but other times it was powerful. What starts out with Jeff pursuing girls like Hayley over the internet and getting to know how to manipulate them. He finds out Hayley has been doing her own homework about his lifestyle. Is Hayley the daughter of surgeon? Why does the camera pan onto a noticeboard in the cafe where they meet which shows a poster of missing teenager? What connection does Hayley have with this missing girl? And what does Jeff have to do with it all? Is Hayley an avenging angel punishing child abusers?

I don't want to give too much away but I was interested that Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian compared the film to illusionary and surreal Odishon (Audition) which he argued was superior. I am not totally sure about this as there are differences between Hard Candy and Audition. Though obviously I can see the comparison such as the torture scenes and making individual (collective) men to be responsible for their behaviour.

But I did find myself identfying with Hayley as when Jeff asks who she really is. She replies, "I am every girl you have pictured, touched and molested". The reason why I felt for Hayley is the real frustration and anger at the number of girls and women who are sexually abused and raped and who never get justice but are instead disbelieved and silenced. And before you say anything I am not going to quote from the SCUM manifesto. Even Linda Williams in this month's Sight and Sound says, "I cheered at every stage of her nasty little plan". You do want her to get away with it.

The poster of the film shows Hayley in a red hoodie looking like Little Red Riding Hood and in pursuit of the next big bad wolf. The film may have problems such as it is uneven but the script is kind of powerful. Especially the idea of the pursuer beomes the pursued. The fact that Jeff is in a position of power over Hayley yet she knows which buttons to push to get him where she wants him or as she says, "carpe omnium" (take it all) and thankfully none of the Lolita bullshit either.

The acting is great. Ellen Page (Hayley) gives an electrifying performance while Patrick Wilson (Jeff) presents himself as this realistic and credible nice down -to -earth three-dimensional guy and that's what is creepy about it all. He is average and like any other bloke.