Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hard Candy

I really enjoy it when I go see a movie that I know little to nothing about and come away with some sort of intense reaction. Often times I’ll have a pre-decided judgment about a film and I’ll walk away either disappointed or pleasantly surprised. I had thought that The Phantom Menace was going to be the movie to end all movies, little did I know while caught up in the fanboy hysteria, that the movie was actually pretty terrible. I was disenchanted by the Star Wars franchise and even more so after Attack of The Clones. So when a movie that I am neither for nor against makes me feel something, anything, I have to give it props.

When I added Hard Candy to my Netflix queue all I knew was that it was about an older man who meets a younger woman through the internet. All said, that’s pretty much all you need to know about the movie. Other than that premise, I can’t really say what compelled me to see the movie. I think that when it came out to theatres back in April I had read a review that said it was pretty good. It probably has more to do with the fact that I think the older man/younger woman situation is immensely intriguing. I guess I’m too young to understand the predilection for the creepy old man crowd to be falling head over heels for young teenage girls. Or maybe I’m just jealous that an older woman never swept me off my feet during my teen years.

I grew up during the beginning stages of the instant messaging boom. Everybody who was anybody had an instant messaging program, I was a member of at least three (AIM/AOL, Yahoo!, and ICQ). I would sit on AOL for hours and talk to complete strangers. Though the traditional definition of stranger is a little blurry online. You’re talking and relating to this person that you’ve never met, but are they still a stranger even though you’ve never had any real live contact? Anyways, I’m completely familiar with the addiction that young people have with chatting online and the fact that I understand that makes Hard Candy all the more creepy.

At first Jeff (Patrick Wilson) doesn’t seem like a creepy guy when he meets Haley (Ellen Page) at a coffee shop. Sure he looks significantly older than Haley (who’s only 14), but he just seems so nice. It isn’t until we get to the playfully coy banter between the two that this isn’t just some whim that Jeff acted upon and we realize that he is indeed attracted to this young girl, and the young girl to him.
The events of the rest of the movie make this opening scene seem so much more innocent than it actually is. Jeff has many opportunities to stop what he is doing and walk away but none of them are taken. Instead, he keeps sinking himself further into Haley’s charm. He buys her a t-shirt (which she gladly tries on for him), but only after attempting to buy her sweet things from the barista. By the time she agrees to model for Jeff (who is a professional photographer), he is hooked and any opportunity he had to end this is completely gone.

One of the most significant things about this movie is that at first, you’re going to take Haley’s side. She’s young, cute and innocent. Obviously, Jeff is manipulating her because he’s old, she’s young and young people are never ever guilty. As events progress during the film, you’ll switch to Jeff’s side, especially after she drugs him and ties him to a chair. But the movie doesn’t let you take one side for too long before revealing something about one of their two main characters that either repulses you, or attracts you. Neither of these characters are heroes, but neither of them are villains either. In that duality, the movie reveals itself to be more about the people contained with in the plot than the actual plot itself.

So when I say that I knew pretty much nothing about this movie when I went into, I’m not lying. I really didn’t know what was going on with the movie until the end to tell you the truth. Because every time I thought I knew what was happening, and every time I thought I knew where a character was going to go, they either didn’t go there, or went there but went even further. It’s like if I really, really thought that John Kerry was going to be president, I would have been surprised that he didn’t get voted into office, but I also would have been surprised had been voted into office and then been voted President of The World.

As soon as Haley goes home with Jeff you realize that maybe this isn’t just some little thing that Jeff decided to do. Maybe it was his intention all along to get her to come home with him. So you immediately know that Jeff is a little shady at this point, but later on his original intentions for letting her come over come into question and those questions are horrifying. I don’t want to reveal too much about what exactly happens and what exactly is revealed about our characters during the course of the film, but I will say that at one point, you’ll have a new found appreciation for the comedy of Brian Posehn. If you’ve seen the film, and you know the bit I’m talking about then you’re probably ready to vomit right now just from thinking about it.

Patrick Wilson is pretty amazing in this film. He pulls off the suave player/tortured victim dichotomy with ease. Ellen Page on the other hand, while not bad in any way, I’m not sure how good she was. I don’t know if she just can’t act and was just pulling out every clich├ęd Movie Torturer vibe she could grab (sarcastic wit, devilish eyes, smarter-than-thou attitude) or if that was the point of her character. I’m going to assume that the fact that she and her character are both young, the only way they know how to be the bad guy is not from life experience but by imitating the films and television show’s they’ve watched. Someone so young certainly hasn’t had enough to time to be that fucked up, and there’s a certain percentage of it that has to be an act, despite Haley’s insistence that she is an honor student. Don’t get me wrong, Haley is absolutely terrifying at times, but she’s almost too terrifying.

I haven’t even gotten to how beautiful the film is. I recently made the brilliant decision to get an HD-TV and I already had a progressive scan DVD player. Oh my lord was that a wise decision. David Slade, the director, knows how to tell the camera what do and what to look at (especially the aforementioned Brian Posehn reference) but it’s Jo Willems’ cinematography that tells the cameras how to see it.

There’s plenty of red during the films most violent scenes (as well as light glares and shaky cameras) but during an early scene with our two main characters standing and relating to each-other in an entirely pink room, the camera moves slowly and gracefully and is really the only point in the movie that we can feel Jeff and Haley connect on a deep, profound level. Haley observes some of Jeff’s photography and points out one in particular that she thinks is beautiful, this also happens to be a picture of the only model that Jeff ever fell in love with. Jeff is restrained but angered that she removes the picture from the wall to look at it closer, but he politely takes it from her and puts it back. In that action we can see that Jeff is more complex than his suave jet-setting photographer image and for an instant Haley sees that, just before she tears it all down.

When the credits began to roll and sat a let the movie marinate for a while, I was floored. Floored because I still don’t think I know what was going on. I mean, I saw what was going on and I knew what happened with in the film but what happened outside of the events of the film was a lot more grey. I didn’t fully grasp what Haley’s motivation was. Vengeance seemed to be the only answer I could find and the only answer that the movie itself provided. But after all was said and done I think that was the point. You never really got to know Haley, while you got to know Jeff a lot more than you would ever want to. In that, Haley maintained her innocence despite her increasingly violent actions, while Jeff ended up with the short end of the stick and despite the movies end you still don’t know who the actual victim was.