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HARD CANDY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Odessa Rae
Director:  David Slade
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Lionsgate
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  September 19, 2006

ďPlay time is over.Ē

Film ***1/2

As far as film set-ups go, you canít get much simpler than Hard Candy.  Almost the entire running time is comprised of dialogue between two characters.  There arenít many locationsÖin fact, most of the film takes place inside a simple house.  The budget was under a million dollars total.

Iím pointing out these facts as a starting point because far too many in Hollywood forget that films are supposed to be about ideas first and foremost.  All the money, production values and A list stars in the world canít create something out of nothing.  Sad, but it always seems to be the artists without the big bankroll or studio backing that remind us whatís truly original and effective.

Yes, Hard Candy is simplicity personified, and itís also one of the most intense, shocking, and disturbing films Iíve ever encountered.  Itís like a punch in the gut that lasts for an hour forty-five.  Itís sharply written, superbly acted and tightly filmed, and chances are, apart from United 93 and for entirely different reasons, this will be the movie I remember most in 2006.

It begins with a dangerous subject matter and uses that as the premise to keep the scenarios and the audience walking a tight rope over hell for the running time.  Just the basic idea is enough to unnerve and produce discomfort.  But the filmmakers nurture that idea in such a way that itís almost Frankensteinian in nature.  I wasnít even sure at times if THEY even realized the monster they were creating.

It begins with an internet chat, when a 30-ish photographer named Jeff (Wilson) lures a 14 year old girl named Hayley (Page) out for a face to face meeting.  Thereís cake and conversation, and an eventual diversion back to Jeffís house, where drinks are poured and suggestions are made.

But Hayley is not as innocent as she seemsÖshe turns the tables on Jeff rather quickly and the predator becomes the prey.  Despite her youth, there is a saviness about her that Jeff never counted on, and now the pedophile is helpless and at the mercy of his intended victim. 

There are shocking developments, none of which I want to give away.  In treading carefully, I run the risk of making this sound like Extremities or Fatal Attraction with a kid involved, but believe me, this picture is much smarter, more relentless, and more gut-wrenching than either of those.  Writer Brian Nelson and director David Slade took an already depraved starting point and followed it dutifully and somberly to its twisted conclusion with the persistence of a man being marched to his own execution.

It works because of their dedication to their concept, but even more is owed to the two stars and their fearless approach to what must have been a grueling ordeal physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Ellen Page may be better known for portraying Kitty Pryde in X-Men III, but her performance in this film could become the stuff of legends.  And Patrick Wilson manages to bring a sense of reality and humanity to the kind of character no one in their right minds could imagine sympathizing with, and guess what?  There are moments when we do.

Thatís indicative of how topsy-turvy the world of this movie is.  When does the aggressor become the victim?  When does the innocent become the guilty?  Where are the lines, and what happens when theyíre crossed?

Hard Candy is original, disturbing and unforgettable.  I canít deny its simple brilliance.  I also donít know if Iíll ever be able to watch it a second time.

Video ****

Despite its low budget, Hard Candy boasts a superior anamorphic transfer.  David Slade manages to use colors, lighting and effects such as keeping the camera far away with a tight zoom to create some striking visuals, and the scope ratio actually manages to produce some rather unsettling close-ups and screen compositions.  Images are sharp and well rendered throughout, and I noticed no grain or compression to mar the effect.

Audio ***

Itís mostly dialogue driven, but still the 5.1 audio creates surprising dynamic range, mostly from the effective moments where quiet scenes are jarringly interrupted.  Not a lot of call for the subwoofer, but the rear stage helps create unsettling ambience at crucial moments.

Features ***

There are two commentary tracks for starters, and both are good listens.  The first features director David Slade and writer Brian Nelson.  The second is with stars Patrick Wilson and Ellen PageÖkind of nice to hear them in friendly conversation after watching the film!

There is a 50 minute making-of documentary with chapter stops, and a shorter one on the controversial nature of the film,  There are 6 deleted/extended scenes, a trailer, and a DVD ROM production notebook.

Summary:

Hard Candy is hard hittingÖit may be the most intense picture you see this year that isnít based on the events of 9/11.  I canít say whether or not youíll like the movie, but I AM sure youíll never forget it.

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