(Spoiler alert!) If you haven't seen 'Hard Candy' I suggest you stop reading this review right now and watch it, then come back and see if we agree. The reason is that there's no way to talk about this movie without giving away one key aspect of the plot. I feel that it's okay to reveal this story point, simply because 'Hard Candy' has been out for quite a while and most people know what it's about. If you're one of the few who have remained completely in the dark, then please stop reading and just skip on down to the video, audio, and special features segments of the review.
Ellen Page caught (and still catches) a lot of flack for playing the hipster-talking Juno. I've always loved 'Juno,' and was never really sure what all the hate was about, but after that movie a lot of people could only picture her as the quirky, pregnant teen. Apparently those people forgot about Page's performance as Hayley in 'Hard Candy.'
Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) is a photographer, who spends most of his time photographing young teenage girls in provocative poses. He's certain that his actions are acceptable. "I'm a professional," he declares. It would be easy to believe Jeff, if he wasn't spending his spare time luring young girls on the internet.
During an instant messaging conversation at the beginning of the film Hayley agrees to meet the flirtatious Jeff. Hayley's screename is Thongrrrrl. Right off the bat, we wonder if she's baiting him just as much as he's trying to bait her. They agree to meet at a local coffee shop. Hayley is sweet, innocent, and spunky. Especially for a fourteen year-old. She seems much more in tune with the world than the normal teenage girl, which turns Jeff on even more. Jeff takes Hayley back to his house, where Hayley announces that girls should never take a drink if it has been mixed by someone else. That's when Hayley mixes the drinks, and after some time, Jeff wakes up from a drug induced stupor tied to a chair.
If you don't know anything going into the movie, this is a huge surprise. The situation has been flipped. Hayley has control now, and she's changed drastically. Her voice isn't cutesy anymore; she's there to get answers. Page is gut-wrenchingly marvelous as Hayley. If the Juno persona bugs you, then watching her as the teenage angel of vengeance will be a nice change.
Hayley suspects there's something wrong with Jeff. She believes Jeff is hiding a secretive life as a pedophile. She's prepared to do whatever is necessary to find out the truth.
'Hard Candy' is an intensely written and acted drama, with the heart of the film being the interaction between Hayley and Jeff. For much of the movie it's impossible to tell who the real predator is. We suspect Jeff has done something wrong, but the way Hayley is going about it seems even more malicious. David Slade's masterful direction is yet another reason this movie pushes itself into the upper echelon of suspense thrillers. With Slade's patented hard focused close-ups, the movie becomes much more personal than you'd expect. Perhaps the most amazing facet of the film is that Slade never gives any hints as to who you should be rooting for. Maybe they're both horrible people, who knows.
One thing I know is Page's performance here is frighteningly wonderful. Imagine if Heath Ledger's Joker had a teenage child. Hayley is determined to find out the truth no matter what it takes, but you can't help but notice that she kind of likes what she's doing. Something's definitely wrong with her too. 'Hard Candy' can be, at times, hard to watch but it's more than worth it.
Lionsgate comes through with an amazing 1080p transfer for 'Hard Candy.' I really wasn't expecting that much from a low-budget movie like this. This is perhaps one of, if not the, best transfers I've seen on a movie that cost under a million bucks to produce.
First, let's take note of the amazingly solid colors that populate Jeff's house in the movie. The special features let us in on a little secret: Many of the walls and surroundings were digitally colored after filming by digital colorist Jean-Clement Soret. Dark reds, pale pinks, rich browns, and deep blacks are all featured in vibrant glory. Check out Jeff's hands turning purple as he's tied to the metal table! The colors in this film are astounding, and the high definition transfer only adds to their splendor.
Fine detail is pumped up to the max. Facial details are extremely clear, and should be since much of the film is comprised of close-ups. From Ellen Page's light brown freckles, to Patrick Wilson's head dripping in sweat, the fine detail here is some of the best I've seen. Slade's techniques cause much of the background to be blurred beyond recognition, making us focus directly on the actor's detailed faces and expressions. Textures, patterns and clothing all look perfect too, from Hayley's tank-top, to the pattern created by the black riverstones neatly laid side by side in Jeff's house.
Even the outside scenes feature loads of detail as Hayley walks out onto the roof during a sunny afternoon and a neighbor cuts a rose in the foreground. It all looks as it should. Source noise is nowhere to be found, digital anomalies are non-existent, and skintones are perfectly natural. This is a fantastic transfer for a movie that deserved as much. Lionsgate has treated this one right for sure. Kudos.
'Hard Candy' is as talkative as they come. Most of the film's sound consists of dialogue between Jeff and Hayley. So, it's a great thing that the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation produces clearly audible voices. There are a few moments where dialogue is whispered or spoken off screen through a closed door,and those don't come through very well at all. You may find yourself rewinding just a little to catch what Hayley says in the bathroom of the coffee shop as Jeff stands outside waiting. It's very hard to hear.
Sound effects are all reproduced with close to crystal clarity. The movie switches back and forth from a psychological thriller to an all-out thriller with chases and short but fierce fight scenes.
While the quieter scenes need help (i.e. the restroom scene at the beginning) the action scenes feature a symphony of thriller sounds to keep you intrigued. Directionality is well placed as Jeff and Hayley move slowly and quickly from one room to another. Rear speakers are somewhat dormant, as there isn't much in the way of ambient noise to be produced in an empty house with only two people who are constantly in the front of the screen. LFE does chime in during the more intense scenes offering much needed oomph to the soundtrack. While the sound presentation here isn't as stellar as the video, it complements it nicely. If only those few hushed scenes were more easy to hear.
Each special featurette comes with a disclaimer that you shouldn't watch it before you watch the movie because it reveals certain plot points.
There are two commentaries offered here, and if you're a fan of the movie you must listen to both of them. The first one features director David Slade and writer Brian Nelson talking about the aspects of filming such a unique movie. Slade talks at length about the visual choices he made, while Nelson (a playwright) talks about how this movie is more like a play and how the characters of Jeff and Hayley began to speak on their own after he was able to get the characters down.
The other commentary features Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. Page talks about how tough it was to play a character like Hayley, but says it was rewarding. Wilson acknowledges the tough physical requirements that it took to play Jeff.
Both these tracks are very informative, and offer fans of the film an opportunity to hear from the people who made it work so well.
The writing, acting, and directing are all top-notch in this unique thriller about predators. I say predators as plural, because we aren't just dealing with one here. Page's Hayley is mesmerizing, while Wilson does just as well going through all the physical acting he had to endure. 'Hard Candy' is a phenomenal film. It works as a more than competent thriller, but it also raises some interesting questions that haven't been explored in a movie before. I loved 'Hard Candy,' and with its wonderful video presentation, its adequate sound presentation, and its rich helping of extras, this one comes highly recommended.