And then there she was Like double cherry pie Yeah there she was Like disco superfly I smell sex and candy here… Mama this surely is a dream...

Sex, Power and Hard Candy

And then there she was
Like double cherry pie
Yeah there she was
Like disco superfly
I smell sex and candy here…
Mama this surely is a dream
—Sex and Candy

“Playtime is over. It’s time to wake up.”
—Hayley, Hard Candy

While it may be taboo for a grown man to be sexual attracted to a teenager, films like Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, express the forbidden fantasy of having sex with an underage girl. Nabokov’s novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a middle aged writer who becomes sexually obsessed with Dolores Haze or “Lolita” the twelve year old girlchild of his impromptu fiancé. Along with the media’s sexualization of teenage girls, films like Lolita blur the line between fantasy and reality, between innocent love affair and sexual abuse. This is the kind of sexual dynamic at play as we watch fourteen year old Hayley played by Ellen Page and thirty something photographer Jeff get to know each other online in the opening scene of Hard Candy.
Using the screen names thonggrrrrl and lensman319, Hayley and Jeff respectively banter back and forth about books, bands and each other on the internet. The situation is a familiar one. We’ve all been there, chatting with someone on the other end of cyber space, perhaps saying and suggesting things we wouldn’t or shouldn’t in real life. We can easily fill the shoes of either Jeff or Hayley as the two innocently flirt via the net.

This first impression only intensifies as we watch Jeff and Hayley to know each other in person at a coffee shop. There’s nothing really bad about what they’re doing. They sit and talk more about what bands they’re into and what Hayley likes to read. When Hayley mentions she’s reading Romeo and Juliet (“a ninth grade book”) the deal is virtually sealed. Jeff isn’t some pervy pedophile, he’s a lover, the Romeo to Hayleys’ underage Juliet. They do say age is just a number don’t they? Hayley doesn’t seem at all repulsed by Jeff’s overtures and the whole thing is just an innocent flirtation. Right?
Wrong. That cold fact slams itself in the audience’s face when Hayley drugs Jeff and ties him to a chair, turning predator into prey. Fourteen year old nymphet turned pedophile killer, Hayley is on a mission to find and kill men who torture, sexually abuse and murder young girls. Enter Jeff, her prime suspect who walks straight into her trap. The rest of the film is a psychological roller coaster ride as Hayley tortures the truth out of Jeff and even simulates a castration on him. The scene is made more painful by the fact that while Hayley has made up her mind about Jeff’s guilt, the audience is still debating whether Jeff is a good person at heart, he just seems like such a nice guy.

The visual landscape of Hard Candy is chilling and even when shot in the brightness of the California sun manages to somehow feel cold and menacing. The mood of the film shifts with the light that filters in through the vertical blinds which clatter together ominously in the background. One example of the lighting’s ability to change the mood can be seen in Hayley’s photo shoot and Jeff’s initial confinement.
Brightly lit, Hayley’s impromptu photo shoot can be construed as a celebration, a seduction. The colors are warm orange, yellows and reds as Hayley removes her clothing and starts dancing on the couch, but when Jeff passes out after being drugged by Hayley, the color changes. When Jeff wakes up the light is cold and sharp, denoting the shift in power from Jeff to Hayley. Jeff is tied to a chair and playtime is clearly over.
What makes Hard Candy so chilling is that we all have our secrets and it’s frightening to imagine someone who would stop at nothing to reveal them. What make’s Jeff’s secrets worse is their evidence of his involvement in pedophilia and murder. When Hayley tears Jeff’s house apart looking for his “stroke shots” we sweat along with him because we hope and pray he’s not the monster Hayley has made him out to be. That is, until she finds them.
In the end, Hayley becomes the avenging angel of Jeff’s worst nightmare. When Jeff asks who she is, she replies, “I am every little girl you ever watched, touched, hurt, screwed, [or] killed.” After the deed is done, Haley simply disappears into the woods clad in a bright red hoodie and in a reversal of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, she goes in search of more wolves to kill.

3 comments:

  1. im obsessed with this film. you have no idea.

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  2. I had this as #5 on my top 10 horror movies of 2006. Upon restrospect it should be higher.

    This is to Catch a Predator's worst nightmare and everything in your review is right on.

    The movie actually questions whether or not Jeff is actually guilt of doing what Hayley is saying he did which makes you feel for both of em.

    And this is the film that put Ellen Page on the map.

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  3. BJ-C,

    And you have every right to be! It's beautifully shot and its minimalist style really allows the viewer to focus on the psycholoical terror as it unfolds.

    Jaded,
    I agree that is was Ellen Page's breakout role. That last part when she confesses she may not even be named Hayley was chilling!

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