Hard Candy

Inspired by accounts of underage vigilante girls in Japan turning the tables on Internet predators, playwright Brian Nelson's schematic tale of the hunter captured by the game, a queasy blend of exploitation-movie nastiness and blunt moral lesson, generated heated controversy at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. After weeks of flirtatious e-mails, coltish...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Inspired by accounts of underage vigilante girls in Japan turning the tables on Internet predators, playwright Brian Nelson's schematic tale of the hunter captured by the game, a queasy blend of exploitation-movie nastiness and blunt moral lesson, generated heated controversy at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. After weeks of flirtatious e-mails, coltish 14-year-old Hayley Stark (17-year-old Ellen Page) and 32-year-old fashion photographer has-been Jeff Kohver (stage veteran Patrick Wilson) arrange to meet at a Los Angeles mall cafe ominously called Nighthawks. The handsome and well-mannered Jeff doesn't look to Hayley like some perverted criminal, and Hayley certainly doesn't sound to Jeff like an innocent young teenager; when he suggests they continue their banter at his home, a tastefully minimalist glass-and-slate house in the Hollywood Hills, she readily agrees. Soon Hayley is mixing up screwdrivers, cranking up the music and pleading with Jeff to photograph her, as he has the teenage models whose artfully enticing images line the walls. And Jeff is going with the flow while maintaining that he's "very aware of the legal boundaries," when he shoots underage girls like her. It looks as though Hayley has walked into a carefully constructed trap until suddenly everything changes: Jeff passes out and wakes up bound to a chair. Hayley drugged his drink and has some questions to ask about his taste in pornography and his relationships with teenagers like herself and, especially, the local girl who went missing some weeks ago. Let the mind games begin! Nelson and director Brian Slade are working with the same kind of material that produced such vicious feminist revenge films as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), MS. 45 (1981) and a host of lesser shockers, but they very deliberately downplay the sexual violence, focus instead on the threat of grimly poetic retribution, and give Hayley and Jeff the hyperarticulate voices of debate-club superstars. The desire to craft a consciously provocative film often produces a feature-length public-service announcement, but while Nelson and Slade's philosophical psychodrama is stagy and schematic, it's also undeniably gripping. The credit goes in large measure to Page and Wilson, whose performances are consistently riveting. And while Page's achievement is more immediately impressive, given her youth and the fact that she's a relatively unknown quantity (though she has an extensive resume in Canadian television), Wilson deserves considerable credit for doing such seethingly nuanced work while tied to a table with a bag of ice over his privates and the threat of castration hanging over his head.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Inspired by accounts of underage vigilante girls in Japan turning the tables on Internet predators, playwright Brian Nelson's schematic tale of the hunter captured by the game, a queasy blend of exploitation-movie nastiness and blunt moral lesson, generate… (more)

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