Hard Candy

Year: 2006
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Director: Brian Slade
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandrah Oh
A psychological powerhouse in the tradition (strange though it sounds) of Alien. How so? Ridley Scott's sci-fi epic took a small group of disparate personalities and put them in a very distinctive environment. The environment provided most of the horror and action, but the drama and humanity came completely from the relationships between the tiny ensemble of only seven actors.

Hard Candy goes one step further. The environment is just a house in the daytime, it's the relationships between the characters (in this case only two) that provide the drama in its entirety.

And as it has a minimum of narrative (we're placed in the position of Jeff, learning what's going on as he does), the film has nothing to offer but performance. Thankfully, it's uniformly brilliant on all counts by Patrick Wilson and Jeff and Ellen Page as Hayley.

Meeting online in a slightly ominous opening sequence, handsome and successful photographer Jeff and teenage student Hayley agree to meet in a café. We should be terrified for the naive girl, but Jeff is as friendly and seemingly harmless as he is intelligent and suave, even asking Hayley if she wants to call home and tell them where she'll be as they get in his car to visit his house.

We're still on edge, but feel safe, even as Jeff starts to show Hayley his house and studio, the models he's worked with and his professional and personal lives.

In a heartbeat, things turn around and we're terrified in a way we never would have imagined. Hayley has set the thing up from the beginning. She knows Jeff has some nasty secrets she's taken it upon herself to expose, and she'll exact a terrible revenge for what she believes he's done.

That a fourteen year old girl has the tables turned on a man in his thirties and is in complete control of the carefully planned scenario sounds unbelievable, but the intensity of director Slade's eye and the actors who share almost every scene in the film draws you right up close, feeling like you're pressed to the screen to watch every grim detail.

There are actually a few plot holes you don't even realise until after the movie has let go of the scruff of your neck and you have your breath back. Most of us can spend weeks searching for something at home we've misplaced but know is there somewhere. Hayley takes only minutes of screen time to not only find the hiding place of something she doesn't even know exists but crack the combination of a safe to get at it. Rather than being a flaw of logic or stretch of the imagination at the time (which it is), it just goes to prove how powerful the film is.

It's also a very 21st century phenomenon and unfortunate in a way because we shouldn't need a film like this – or react to it like we do. When two people make friends and one of them offers to show the other something as innocuous as what they do for a living, we should be unconcerned. The fact that one of them is a young girl immediately makes us frightened for her because of decades of hysterical use of the 'P' word.

But in that sad historical context, it's a riveting piece of cinema and an example of how important performers are to a movie in this day and age an actor is seen as just another technician like the pyrotechnic guys or CGI software engineers.

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