I usually hate the idea of spoiler warnings. I feel like as a former student of film I've had so many plots ruined before hand that I'm kinda numb to the idea of ruining the experience of a film. I feel like I'm sort of halfway between enjoying and analyzing a film every time I watch one. Besides I feel this defeats a lot of the point of a visual medium. I mean so many stories are rehashed anyway. It's rare to see a truely original film. (And for more experimental films its almost impossible to explain the experience verbally) I think the bigger point of going to see a movie is to watch how it plays out not what happens. Anyway I should probably write about that later.
For now I think this warrants a spoiler warning because this is a narrative film in which I did not ever know what was going to happen next. I'm also a bit torn about warning people not to read this. My guess is that not a lot of you have heard of this movie or seen the preview or are plan on seeing it. I know that if I give a juicy taste it will definitely perk interests. So here is how i suggest you read this review: Start reading until you are absolutely convinced you will see the movie. I don't think knowing what happens necesarily ruins the experience but certainly I can see some interests being perked earlier than others. OK on with the review.
There are some films as of recent which seem to have a tendency for their audiences to bring a certain ideology to them and take with them exactly what they came in with. I once heard Lord of War described as an "anti-gun" movie. I think that is sort of an odd description. If anything the film is totally neutral about gun-running. Of course there are some characters who show empathy or regret and reform but there are an equal number of cold characters who don't change their cycle of violence. Both bumpers at the beginning and end of the film seem to have as their message that the economy of their trade is inevitable and complex. Remove any one character from the process and another will rise in their place. Hard Candy is the first film that I have seen that seems to totally rely on this process of bringing in preconceived notions to enact certain feelings about a character or the plot.
Based upon the preview for this movie I had expected it to be about a child predators obsession with a young girl. Sort of a Lolita with a psychological thriller edge. From the first twenty minutes of the film I found I wasn't far off. All the shots of Haley (the young girl) except for two (I believe) are framed too close for comfort. It's a very good mixture of form and content. You really feel like you are invading the girls space much like the male character. It's interesting to contrast this style to Lolita because you are never able to see the girl as an object. You don't gawk at her. You just smash up against her virginal face.
The tide turns, however, when Haley ends up at Jeff's house and the two are drinking screwdrivers mid-day. Haley reminds Jeff never to take a drink one hasn't mixed his or herself. Both a bit drunk Haley entices Jeff to take racey photos of her like the ones on his wall of prepubescent girls. At this point the camera movements become erratic and blurry as if one of them has been drugged. It's Jeff. He passes out and when he wakes up Haley has tied him to a chair and starts harrassing him about being a child molester. Now this I haven't seen. A 14 year old girl psychologically torturing a 38 year old man. The film delves further into the bizarre with the two trading quips and trying to trick or betray the other.
Jeff should have died several deaths in the course of the film and there are points where you can't help but wonder why he couldn't easily over-power her being a good 3-4 feet taller and more built. But perhaps just the shear novelty of seeing a 14 year old puny girl torture a grown man is what makes the chase so enticing. Especially the gruesome middle sequence when we anguishly watch Haley castrate Jeff.
This is where I'm not sure what the point of the movie is exactly. I mean I could see a number of people in the audience shouting in unison about a child molester; "Cut his balls off." But in these moments of torture and abuse I didn't feel anything but empathy for the character. Watching the climatic ending really just hammered this point in for me. Are we really expected to be happy about the horrible torture we've witnessed Jeff go through? Of course he is a child predator. Of course he must have put his victims through the same torture. But all of that happened extradiagetically. We aren't subjected to that brutality as a kind of fetishization of violence in the same way we see him tortured. I guess you come out of this movie with the same notions you came in with. If you hate child molesters and think they should be subjected to horrible torture for their crimes then this movie will justify your ideology. "He gets what he deserved!" If, however, you think that violence should not beget violence then this torturous romp might be a bit too much.
Seriously though this movie was some of the best psychological thrilling on screen since Silence of the Lambs. Not with the same amount of Noirish intrigue but it gets major plusses for the extremely bizarre.
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