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Hard Candy (2006)
13th Jun 06
A 32 year old photographer invites a 14 year old girl back to his house, with unexpected results.
Historically the horror genre has always been used as a contemporary tool to both integrate modern technologies into traditional story telling concepts and of course to explore the darker side of these ideas. Take the basic 'stranded' plotline: have you noticed how the first thing cast members tend to do now is check their mobiles, only to find they have no signal?
Similarly the use of the internet in films has changed recently with gradually all its uses creeping on to the screen, from the very high profile naughty web cam stuff in American Pie, to the more violent uses in movies like Halloween Resurrection and, in a more extreme incarnation, My Little Eye.
It's no surprise then that one of last, most uncomfortable internet topics has finally been tackled on celluloid, and that topic is the link between paedophilia and chat room grooming. This is what Hard Candy tackles and tackles really well, albeit with one or two nice twists along the way.
This is how Hard Candy begins; following a conversation in an internet chat room between the movie's two leads, Hayley and Jeff, before quickly moving on to Jeff's local coffee shop where they meet in person for the first time. Jeff's a confident good-looking thirty-something fashion photographer and Hayley and him hit it off immediately, but since Hayley is only fourteen she shouldn't be inviting herself back to his house, not alone anyway.
But she does, and the ball soon starts rolling when she finds a bottle of vodka in his fridge and quickly starts mixing screwdrivers for them both. And before you know it she's even suggested an impromptu photo session and is jumping around on Jeff's sofa while removing bits of clothing. In fact, everything appears to be going well for Jeff, until suddenly his vision blurs and fades, before he completely passes out.
It turns out Hayley has spiked Jeff's drink, and when he revives he discovers that he's tied to a chair and Hayley is searching through his place. She doesn't think it'll take too long to find some evidence that she's not the first underage girl Jeff's had back to his place and, more immediately, she wants to know what Jeff knows about Donna Mauer, another young girl who disappeared from Jeff's coffee shop.
But in the meantime, Hayley has something else planned. It's a certain little surgical procedure she's researched on the internet, and one that will put an end to Jeff's nefarious ways for good.
In terms of box office potential, a movie like Hard Candy is never likely to set the cash registers on fire, namely because a huge majority of the running time is taken up by just having two characters on the screen (Jeff and Hayley) and at one of only two locations (Jeff's house or the coffee shop). But while this may be a problem in the mainstream market, it's not such an issue in the low-budget horror circles, especially if the script is tight enough and the performances do it justice.
Thankfully it is and they do, both actors do incredibly well with what can only be described as quite challenging roles. And it's the troubled aspects of their characters that the leads do so well with; Jeff convincingly shifting from potential sexual predator to torture victim and Hayley from vulnerable underage girl to teen Lolita via absolute psycho and back again. The film is also wise enough to keep us guessing as to who is guilty of what for as long as possible, with the taught narrative swinging our empathy from one side to the other throughout the running time. It’s only right at the end, at the film’s chilling finale, that all the truth is revealed and we realize… Well, I won’t go any further as I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Suffice to say that Hard Candy is an excellent little movie that justifies all the buzz that it’s making. It does boil down to just a tense dialogue between two people for practically the whole film, and the delicate subject matter might not suggest this is a title you’d go back to again and again. But the film does have its moments of exceptionally good narrative (the coffee shop conversation being a prime example) and moments of extreme tension, of which I have to tell you a story. At the press screening for this recently in London where I saw the film, a group of people got up and walked out halfway through what I can only describe as ‘the castration scene’, only for one of them to stumble over me land on the people next to me. “Come on!” shouted the people behind me as these guys walked out, obviously not being able to take what was being shown on the screen. Amateurs.
Versions Hard Candy is release in the UK on June 16th
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