Usually when a film has revenge as dominate theme the protagonist is typically male. You all know the prototype exemplified by Charles Bronson in the Death Wish series. This seems acceptable to most in the audience. After all we expect a man to take justice in his own hands no matter how brutally it is dealt out. The target of this vigilantly behavior almost always is shown as well deserving of any treatment no matter how heinous. When the one dishing out the revenge is not in the acceptable group of rough and ready men the audience may feel uneasy. This was wonderfully shown in the 1986 film ‘Extremities’ where the one seeking the revenge was a woman, aptly played by Farrah Fawcett. Director David Slade pushes us past the stereotype even further with his film ‘Hard Candy’, where a 14 year old girl seeks justice from a 32-year-old internet pedophile.
As the film opens we see an online chat between Thonggrrrrrl14 and Lensman319. Thonggrrrrrl14 is actually 14 year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) and 32 year-old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson). The online chat appears innocent enough at first, concerned with books, popular music and the pros of chocolate. The collective hairs on the back of the audience’s neck begin to stir as Kohlver wants to meet Haley in person. When they meet he expresses dismay at having to wait four years for young Haley to be legal and she tells him that most doctors consider her insane. If you think that this is creepy just wait, it gets better, or worse depending on your viewpoint. Kohlver lets Haley wants to appear older so she lets a medical textbook be seen by Kohlver. She tells him she is a medical student, an obvious lie not that he cares. Kohlver states 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 a MP3 file back home she should come back home with him to hear it. From Kohlver’s point of view this is absolutely perfect and 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. Kolhver begins to feel dizzy; Haley explains that she slipped something in his drink but she was not really 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, a 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 is an intense, well presented film. The cat and mouse game played by Haley and Kohlver is riveting. Both people have hidden agendas and slowly the true motives for their actions come out. The stage is nicely set 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 on the net colors 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. Like many online predators Kohlver is somewhat careful. When Haley tries to state she is a medical student he has in his mind a legal out. 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 out that he truly believed that Haley was of age. The thin veneers such as this are what are actually 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 typical pedophile excuses such as she was only legal a child; 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 basically 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 actresses take on the typical and over done 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 any one you might see in 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 previous made music videos. This is certainly an exception. While most music video directors just make a 90 minute version of their previous work Slade has the ability to 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 great 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 a 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 you in. There was a lot of attention to the extras provided here. There are two audio commentary tracks. The first is more technical in nature featuring director David Slade and screen writer 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.