Saturday, 18 June 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 2 - Hard Candy

#99 Hard Candy

Okay, my first film was the well-known Avatar so my second is the lesser known Hard Candy. Comparing these two films, this one is probably the biggest contrast there is to Avatar. While that was a multi-million dollar blockbuster that is in the history books, this little gem was made on a shoe string budget and has a cast of about six actors in total, only four of which have speaking roles (and one of them only says the name “Jeff” over and over again). But the film’s two main actors happen to be big names in Hollywood today, none other than Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson to be specific.

The film opens with a view of an internet chatroom with two lovebirds chatting online and agreeing to meet up at a cafĂ©. When we see the two of them in person we instantly know that something isn’t quite right – you see the girl Hayley is fourteen years old and the guy Jeff is in his thirties. Hayley finds herself invited over to Jeff’s house for the day where she has a look at all his pictures (him being a famous photographer) and there’s a rather strange collection of underage girls posing provocatively on his wall. Jeff even gives her alcohol and agrees to take a few pictures of her…You think you know where this is going? Well guess again because Jeff passes out and wakes up to find himself tied up and sweet innocent Hayley isn’t quite so innocent – she knows exactly what he is and what he’s been up to and has been planning this for some time.

With its low budget and limited cast, this film relies on strong performances and creative dialogue exchanges between the two leads as well as impressive camera work. It plays out almost like an inverted modern Little Red Riding Hood – you can tell the filmmakers drew inspiration from the fairytale if you take a look at the poster, and of course Hayley is seen wearing a red hoodie during her first and last appearances in the film as a kind of bookend to the story; if she ever tells her story then that is how the world will see her while only she will know the truth.

The visuals, like in Avatar, are a great part of the film. Obviously you can’t afford to create an entire planet with blue space elves for $50 unless Wall Mart are doing some new deals in the economic crisis, so the visuals in this film are a lot more subtle. Director David Slade came from a music video background so you can definitely see that kind of influence in the visuals of Jeff’s house where the majority of the film takes place. The entire house acts as a fantastic art piece with cool subdued blues, greys and whites with the occasional stark contrast against a blood-red wall. Hell, I’d love to live in that house – minus the underage girls on the wall but I’m sure Roman Polanski would find some use for them (he even got a mention in the film, would you believe?).

Let’s get to the biggest achievement of the film which is the performances; if you’re a fan of Ellen Page as I am, you’re going to have to face that in this film she isn’t the same loveable, smiley, bubbly, dreamy, sexy, kissable, goddess-like…sorry…where was I? Oh right, Ellen Page is playing a villain in this film. Not the villain mind you, because Jeff is a villain as well. I haven’t seen Juno yet and that did get an Oscar nod (damn you Marion Cotillard!) but this is one of the best performances my Ellen has ever done. She’s this witty, charming little girl who cracks a ton of wise ass jokes all the while she has a suspected child molester tied up at her mercy. Sadly this isn’t complete as she doesn’t look so hot in this film as you can see from the pictures (the producers even mistook her for a boy when she auditioned since she had her head shaved for another film).
 Not to be outdone, Patrick Wilson was equally amazing as Jeff. He made us feel sorry for a friggin child molester. It’s an interesting dynamic to watch the first part of the film where Jeff appears to be the “predator” in control while Hayley looks to be the poor helpless victim. Then the roles switch around and Hayley is in control. It’s very interesting to watch Jeff unravel through Hayley’s torture, culminating in a scene where she has his pants down and strapped to an operating table. If you haven’t guessed what she plans to do to him by now then you may be suffering from a bad case of Genre Blindness. I haven’t really had a chance to see Patrick in a lot of other stuff (another of his films does indeed make the list) but I am looking out for them.

The most unique thing about this film is that you really have no idea who to root for. There is no defined villain and no hero because who the hell would we prefer to have on the streets? It’s a choice between a child molester and a deranged psycho teenage girl. Take into account that Hayley planned the entire thing out, stalking Jeff on several chat rooms and packing her bag full of the essentials such as drugs, surgical equipment and a taser. I’m sure she probably rehearsed a few of the lectures she gave him too. Hayley was indeed a fascinating character to watch in this film and for me the most interesting scenes are the ones that happen when Hayley is out of Jeff’s sight. One moment in particular has her tearing up his house looking for incriminating evidence after he has tried to reach her by getting her talking about her parents. She is visibly frustrated and you think that maybe Jeff can break her. You almost start to root for Jeff but then he falls right back into his villain box as he gets two opportunities when Hayley is gone and he is free. He doesn’t call the police or get out of the house, but instead chooses to go after Hayley to get revenge.
We now come to my favourite scene in the whole film. I mentioned it earlier when Hayley has Jeff strapped down planning to castrate him. He then tells her a story from his childhood when his aunt caught him with her daughter and nearly burnt his balls off on the kitchen stove. Patrick Wilson acts the hell out of that scene and that is when you start rooting for Jeff in the film. The aforementioned missed opportunities scenes come after this.

I guess if I had to pick something I didn’t like about this film it would be how Hayley never gets any direct comeuppance. Jeff kicks her in the head and chokes her out a bit but she still wins in the end. The film does leave it ambiguous as to whether or not she will get away with it. Sandra Oh has a cameo as Jeff’s neighbour who calls at the door while Hayley has Jeff tied up. It’s an interesting cliffhanger and the wishful thinkers can imagine a sequel where Hayley gets put behind bars where she belongs.
 Well that’s it for my second entry so until tomorrow, stay classy San Diego – no that film is not on this list but I can’t think of a catchy one liner that relates to this film (don’t lose your balls, don’t pick up your girls at recess, am I getting somewhere?) so see ya. Remember to follow me on Twitter.

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