Monday, 24 December 2012

Hard Candy (2005)

“Does your mother know you cut off men’s balls?”

That Ellen Page is a bloody good actress, ain’t she? She was superb in Juno and she’s just as superlative her. I suppose that in both cases she’s playing smart, eccentric characters, but look beyond the superficial and they’re two very different parts. She also seems to be good at choosing scripts. Both of the films I’ve seen so far in which she’s starred have been bloody good. So, obviously, I bloody love this film, in spite of the disturbing subject matter. And, it must be said, the castration scene, especially for those of us burdened with a Y chromosome.

This is a low-budget film, utilising limited sets and very little location filming; this script could be performed in a theatre with minimal alteration. It’s a two-hander; aside from Ellen Page as Hayley, a very clever fourteen year old girl, and Patrick Wilson as Jeff. It’s a few minutes into the film, after we see their online flirting and the first few minutes of their date, that we learn her age, and realise that Jeff is a paedophile. Not for the last time, the film subverts our expectations uncomfortably.

Hayley is highly intelligent, extremely well-read and exhibits a quirkiness that both fits with and draws attention from the big revelation: yes, Jeff has lured her to his home for sick and disgusting purposes, but she’s no helpless damsel in distress. She, not he, is the predator, and the bulk of the film consists of her discussing his sick proclivities, with extraordinary psychological insight, as she slowly tortures and kills him. The dialogue is what makes this a great film. There’s an extremely good scene in which Jeff tries to insist that, yes, he may be a paedo, but he’s also done work for environmental causes, much as Jimmy Savile did an awful lot for charity. Hayley may probably be insane, but I like her. I’m sure she was lying about liking Coldplay, too, so I won’t hold that against her.

This film has an awful lot to say about the subversion of gender roles in popular culture, about the male gaze, and about power. What’s particularly nice is that Jeff has to reveal all sorts of deep, dark secrets to Hayley, but he (and the viewer) ends up knowing nothing about her- not her motives, the whereabouts of her parents, or even her name. Hard Candy starts out seeming like another version of the old trope of men objectifying women- or, in this case, girls- but ends up subverting that; all along it’s Hayley, not Jeff, who has the agency.

I suppose the film could be criticised for promoting vigilantism and capital punishment, both of which I passionately oppose, but I think that would be overly harsh. This is a thriller, and genres have conventions. I recommend this film highly. It’s just the thing for Christmas Eve.

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