Usually when a film has revenge as dominate theme the protagonist is typically male. The prototype exemplified by Charles Bronson in the Death Wish series is well known to all movie fans which seems acceptable to most in the audience. After all, we expect a man to take justice into his hands no matter how brutally it is dealt out. The target of this vigilant behavior almost always is shown as well deserving of any treatment no matter how heinous. When the one is dishing out the revenge is not in the acceptable group of rough and ready men the audience may feel uneasy as demonstrated so intensely in the 1986 film ‘Extremities'. The theme of the movie depicted a woman as the person seeking revenge, a role aptly played by Farrah Fawcett with intense direction by Robert M. Young. David Slade pushed this gender altered stereotype even further with his film ‘Hard Candy’. Here a 14-year-old girl seeks justice from a 32-year-old man she suspects of being an internet pedophile.
As the film opens we see an online chat between Thonggrrrrrl14 and Lensman319. Thonggrrrrrl14 is 14-year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) and 32-year-old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson). The online chat appears innocent enough at first as he exhibits his interest in books, popular music and the delights of chocolate. The collective hairs on the back of the audience’s neck begin to stir as Kohlver expresses his interest in meeting in person. When they meet, he exhibits his disappointment at having to wait four years for young Haley to be of legal age. Hayley discloses to the older man that most doctors consider her insane. If you think that this is creepy just hold on, it gets better, or worse, depending on your viewpoint. Kohlver notices Haley wants to appear older, so she conveniently lets him get a glimpse at a medical textbook among her things, telling him she is a medical student. Ms, Page is ideal for this role as she has a youthful appearance that still undermines looking her actual age. Hayley tries to tell him she is a medical student, an obvious lie not, that he cares.
Kohlver tells her that he attended a concert given by one of Haley’s favorite groups. She regrets missing it, but Haley has the solution since he has an MP3 file back home she should come back home with him to hear it. From Kohler's point of view, this is perfect, precluding the necessity of contriving a reason for her to go back with him, The two retire to his place. Once there he offers her some water, but Haley explains that she never accepts a drink she hasn’t poured. This caution seems strange when she goes into the kitchen to mix up some screwdrivers for them. He wants to take some photos of her like those on exhibit in his home. As they consume their drinks, Haley starts to dance around and pose. Kohler begins to feel dizzy; Haley explains that she slipped something in his drink, but she was not sure of the proper dosage. He passes out and when he comes to he finds himself bound. She searches his home finding a gun and opens her bag letting various items fall out. Among them are the medical handbook, drugs, rope, a surgeon's apron, surgeon’s scalpel, clip a video tape, and a taser. Needless to say, Kohlver is very nervous at this point and with good reason. Everything was an elaborate trap set by the girl. She finds photographs of a friend of hers who disappeared, with Kohlver the prime suspect in her mind. Haley sets about on a program on psychological torture that would make the Inquisition seem like a party. Part of this has Kohlver forced to watch the tape which shows in detail a castration. Although young in years Haley knows exactly how to get into the head of her victim.
This film is an intense, well-presented film that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. The cat and mouse game played by Haley and Kohlver is riveting, drawing the viewer inexorably in not relinquishing it hold for the duration of the movie. Both people have hidden agendas, and slowly the real motives for their actions come out. The stage has been set nicely from the start. There is nothing innocent about the initial meeting or even the online chats. Perhaps being a father of a daughter who is always online heightened my perspective but there is something about a 32-year-old man sitting opposite a 14-year-old girl that just strikes me as wrong on every conceivable level. Typical of the behavior exhibited by online predators Kohlver is extremely careful in his rehearsed ploy to lower her defenses rendering her susceptible to his advances. Haley’s attempt to convince, him that she is a medical student planted an idea in his mind. That statement could be construed as a legal excuse. She unsolicitedly presented herself as being of being past the age of consent, Although he said that he regrets waiting four years for her to become legal the statement that she is a medical student might offer some legal defense justifying that he believed that Haley was of age. The thin veneers such as this are what have stripped away during their confrontation. The thing is Haley is a predator herself. She pulls Kohlver in with her bumbling innocence, and by the time she reveals her true nature Kohlver is tied facing a little ‘preventative maintenance’ regarding his manhood. There is little doubt as to why Kohlver wanted Haley back at his place. She finds child pornography, so he is guilty of a heinous crime even if it was not exactly the one she believes. Haley calls Kohlver out on all the usual pedophile excuses such as she was only a child under an arbitrary law; she acted more like a woman. This thriller cuts to the bone of the issue in a forceful and dramatic fashion.
Although there is a supporting cast such as the great actress Sandra Oh, this film is a two person play. It takes a lot for two people to hold a story together but this cast excels. Some in the audience may recognize Ellen Page, most likely from her role as Kitty Pryde in the most recent X-Men flick. Get used to this feeling; she is on the right path to becoming a very well known young actress. She was only 17 at the time of the filming ad if she can invoke such stark and raw emotions at this age I can’t wait to see her grow in her craft. This slim, tiny (only 5’2") actress already has more depth than most of her peers. While most actors take on the typical and overdone teen angst or sex romps, she has committed herself to a mature and compelling role. She portrays Haley as a girl on a mission. She has a self-derived moral vindication for her proposed actions, taking a child molester off the streets and preventing the accumulation of more victims. The audience would be somewhat lost since neither character particularly invokes sympathy, but Page manages to at least get us to understand her character. Patrick Wilson has the difficult job of playing one of the worse examples of the human race, a man who preys upon the innocence of children. With his slight build and glasses, he looks like anyone you might see on the street. By just looking at him you would never suspect what dark compulsion rules his life. His character tries to rationalize his behavior to Haley, but he seems to be trying to convince himself more. Together they have a strange chemistry that will pull you into the situation. Director David Slade does an excellent job here. Usually, I have a lot of trepidation when I have to review the first feature film from a director who previously made music videos. This is certainly an exception. While most music video directors just make a 90-minute version of their former work Slade can focus on the characters without a lot of jagged camera work. This is a presentation of unbridled human emotions without the pretense of legalities or political correctness. He makes the film feel intimate, like a small off-Broadway play. He doesn’t need elaborate sets just two highly talented actors to tell the story. He also uses the color balance to significant advantage. As Haley starts her psychological assault on Kohlver the color is drained out, it ebbs and flows as the intensity of the action progresses.
This DVD release received the treatment it deserved. I would expect nothing less since it came from Lion’s Gate, a studio that knows how best to treat the consumer. The technical specifications here are among the best I have seen in a long while. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is great. The color balance is perfect giving realism that helps carry the film. The 5.1 audio fills the room not in the explosive fashion of many mainstream flicks but with a subtle way that draws in the audience. There was a lot of attention to the extras provided here. There are two audio commentary tracks. The first featurette is technical in nature featuring director David Slade and screenwriter Brian Nelson. They concentrate on the obstacles involved with bringing such an emotionally charged story to the screen. The second commentary track has Patrick Wilson along with Ellen Page. She is well spoken and takes us through how the role affected her both as a young woman but as an actor. There is the required ‘making of’ featurette as well as deleted and extended scenes just in case the film itself didn’t hit you hard enough. While this is not a film for the whole family, it does work as a cautionary tale for all those parents out there that routinely walk past their children while they are online.
Posted 9/19/06 Posted 02/06/2015 01/15/2017