The repurcussions of on-line dating are depicted in the unsettling, but rather taut Hard Candy.
Starring Patrick Wilson (Phantom of the Opera) and Ellen Page, this edgy, manipulative psycho-thriller would appear to be harmless at the start when chat room messages lead to coffee for Jeff Kohlver and Hayley Stark.
The pretty and petite honor student Hayley is well underage, 14, and Jeff, is happy to appease her needs like a new T-shirt, or even what she craves, chocolate. While they are talking, the camera briefly includes a shot of a missing girl, Donna Maurer.
This compelling, almost two-character drama concerns a timely topic about despicable, trolling types like Jeff, who can seem charmingly understated on the surface. Though it is uncertain if he currently practices pedophilia, this photographer is one who knows when the time is right to tow the line.
The majority of Hard Candy takes place in Jeff's small house where his wall space is covered with pictures of teenage girls fully clothed. The first two acts really involve the viewer as a cat-and-mouse game is emerges between these two, nearly separated by 20 years in age. Playwright Brian Nelson has fashioned a script that has skillful touches with truculence and sadism, as gaining one-upsmanship is obsessively chilling, to say the least.
Slade lets the viewer in this staged willfulness with confidence as mainstream filmgoers may be reminded of Fatal Attraction, while independent ones might feel the interpretative urgency of Tape or The Business of Strangers. It is clear that Wilson and Page have a connection on-screen that is shockingly genuine. But, the surprise is how Page (featured in the upcoming X-Men: The Last Stand) astounds with a range of a seasoned veteran, even as Hayley projects much more than what a bright, innocent young teen would be capable of. The effect on male and female viewers during the cold-hearted interplay with deep colors and tight shots could very well be in opposition.
While Hard Candy doesn't equal the level of this newcomer or ultimately the sum of its many pernicious parts, it caustically knows how to put an internet fantasy in its place.