All I can say is thank God for catalogue titles. Except for perhaps Inception, I've been rather unimpressed with the 2010 film lineup thus far. I mean, we've been spoon-fed the same garbage that critics seem to complain about year after year - Pointless sequels, films based on fads, rip-offs of what once was considered to be original concepts, paint-by-numbers romantic comedies, special effects driven popcorn flicks with no substance... when is it all going to end? Hollywood can keep their vampire romance sagas and Marvel tie-in films. I'm going to be watching the old stuff, because the Blu-ray release calendar has been very kind to us this year. By the end of 2010, we would have had opportunities to own a proper (albeit quiet) re-release of Gladiator, Toy Story, Se7ven, Beauty and the Beast, the Back to the Future Trilogy, the Alien Anthology, and even The Goonies! Speaking of catalogue films, Lionsgate is releasing a bunch of well received titles in early October, one of which happens to be Hard Candy, a film you need to become familiar with if you've never heard of it before.
The tone of the film is set right from the first frame, and it's one of discomfort. We witness a brief conversation on the internet between a 30-something year old man who's trying too hard to be sweet, and a 14 year old girl who's doing her best to convince this man that she's very mature for her age. The conversation we've become voyeurs to becomes gut-wrenchingly awkward when they agree to meet. This is every parent's worst nightmare, and Hard Candy seemingly promises in typical Hollywood fashion to take us down the path of the unthinkable, but it isn't long before the horror of the situation truly begins to gnaw at your brain - This ISN'T just another story out of Hollywood. This kind of thing happens in real life all the time.
So, Hayley and internet lover boy Jeff meet at a local coffee shop for the first time. This location is somewhat out of the way, but it's still out in the open enough to put a young girl's mind at ease. It's a location that will hopefully dissipate her fears of ending up on next week's milk carton into that of excitement, or perhaps even heartfelt warmth toward her new 'friend'. However, Hayley seems to have zero concern about Jeff whatsoever, and agrees to go back to his place without much thought. It's there that Hayley discovers that Jeff is a photographer, as he has tons of girly photos hanging all over the walls of his bachelor pad. Despite the obvious warning signs that should make any girl with half a brain run for the hills, Hayley then starts to dance and drink a little alcohol with her creepy new pal. Jeff doesn't do anything at this point to indicate to the 14 year old that he's doing a mental victory dance, but we can certainly tell he thinks this little game of cat and mouse is almost over... but to his surprise, he's the one that loses consciousness and wakes up bound and gagged. No, this game of cat and mouse has only just begun.
Sure, the plot is seemingly simplistic to a fault, but Hard Candy stands as a much needed reminder to Hollywood that a good film doesn't need to be overly complicated (or expensive) in order to be interesting. All you really need are some good ideas, good writing, and a talented cast in order to deliver the goods, and this film delivers on all fronts. Hard Candy begins by using a frighteningly realistic situation that's going to make people cup their hands over their mouth in psychological horror, and just when you think you have this film figured out, it takes a very drastic turn for the... well, that's just it. It's nearly impossible to define if the role reversal that takes place between cat and mouse is for the better, or for the worst. It's refreshing to see a predatory villain get his comeuppance from vengeful prey, but it isn't long before the lines between good and evil begin to blur. Hayley certainly might start out as the film's heroine, but the lengths at which she goes to ensure Jeff never uses the internet for his perverse habit again are equally horrifying. To almost feel sorry for such a twisted criminal might sound insane, but you're just going to have to see the film for yourself to believe it. The roles of cat and mouse continue to swap back and forth throughout the rest of the picture, and as they do, you might start feeling uneasy with yourself for not being able to pinpoint who the biggest monster really is. This is by far the most intriguing aspect of Hard Candy overall, and ensures that this is one mind-job of a film you're not likely to forget anytime soon.
The second biggest reason to watch Hard Candy is, without question, the magnificent performance by Ellen Page. This film was done fairly early on in her career, yet it's probably the most important film she's done in terms of showcasing her talent. Throughout the film's 104 minute runtime, Page is effectively able to pull off a character that's juvenile enough on the outside, but surprisingly grown up on the inside. We see her act out as an innocent 14 year old girl that's on the fast track to becoming a reckless party animal, and on the flip side of the coin, we see her portray a surprisingly intellectual monster, made all the more shocking by the age of her character. Patrick Wilson deserves recognition for how he portrays his character as well. Although it's true he doesn't achieve the same 'spark' that Page was able to, Wilson is still impressive nonetheless... most notably during a scene where he's strapped down and being tortured by the girl he once thought to be a helpless creature for the taking.
That's not to say that Hard Candy is a film that one would consider 'torture porn' however. It's far from it, in fact. After all is said and done, the lasting effect this film is going to hold you with is that of a psychological nature. This is a film that's quite effective at what it sets out to do, and considering 99% of the junk you see at the movies nowadays ends up being forgettable the second you walk out the door, that's saying a lot. If you're looking to break away from the typical genre clichés that the studios are spewing out year after year, sit down with Hard Candy one night for something that's not only different, but something that's going to continue to resonate with you some time after you see it.
Despite the fact that Hard Candy doesn't offer beautiful scenery or special effects, this 1080p encode (AVC, 2.35:1) is still visually stunning. Much of the film appears to have a slightly muted color palette. Skin tones come off as looking pale, and most everything else tends to look a little washed out. However, tones of red, yellow, and orange are prominent throughout the feature and burst off the screen with impressive saturation. What usually happens when contrast is tweaked and colors are used to convey a certain tone, is that clarity ends up taking a semi-noticeable hit... but not so with Hard Candy. Thanks to the absence of EE and DNR, edges look sharp yet natural, and details on everything from skin, to sweat, to clothing are immaculate. To top things off, there's really no digital artifacting to complain about either. I've been watching Hard Candy on DVD for some time now, and although the DVD still can't be referred to as a slouch, the high-def presentation on this disc still blows it out of the water with ease. If you're contemplating an upgrade and you have a real appreciation for this film, there's no reason to contemplate based on the video performance alone. Go for it.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn't the most impressive thing I've ever heard, but then again, Hard Candy was never designed to give the audience a 'blow your mind' surround presentation. The film pretty much consists of dialogue, and considering that a majority of the film takes place in Jeff's bachelor pad, there's not a lot of environmental sound effects to provide additional ambience. That being said, the dialogue is right on the money. It's crisp and clear, and is occasionally tweaked just a little bit to enhance the anxiety that's building throughout the entirety of the picture. Most people might not find this to be a substantial upgrade over the previous DVD release, but audiophiles should find this to be just that.
Audio Commentaries - Director David Slade and Writer Brian Nelson/Actor Patrick Wilson and Actress Ellen Page - I would have expected one of these commentaries, if not both of them, to be about as boring as they come. Hard Candy is a low budget film with a grand total of two stars in it, so I wasn't excited at the prospect of hearing people talk about a seemingly simplistic film for 104 minutes, let alone doing it twice. To my surprise however, each commentary track is loaded to the brim with energetic enthusiasm, and with one track featuring a 'behind the scenes' duo while the other spends time with the stars themselves, they're perfectly contrasted. Although some of the information is covered in both commentary tracks, it never seems to get repetitive and boring as we're hearing two completely different perspectives on the same subject matter. These are some of the most illuminating commentary tracks I've heard in a while, and fans of the film shouldn't pass either one of them up.
Creating Hard Candy - This documentary clocks in at almost 52 minutes in length, which much like the commentary tracks themselves, is quite a surprise considering it's covering a low-budget film that many people still probably haven't heard of yet. The same four people that sat down behind the mic for the two commentary tracks on this disc are also responsible for presenting most of the facts and personal views about Hard Candy on this supplement, so if you've already listened to them explain their feelings on the project in full, this might be a featurette that fails to cover a lot of new ground. However, watching the behind-the-scenes footage is still interesting considering there's only two people interacting with each other 'on stage' at all times, so I wouldn't skip this even if you have listened to the commentaries. If for some reason you completely detest listening to commentary tracks however, then this supplement isn't one to miss.
Controversial Confection - This is basically another 'making of' featurette, but it's only 10 minutes long or so and can barely be considered a Cliff's Notes version of what's offered in the lengthier documentary that precedes it. Skip it.
Deleted and Extended Scenes - Hard Candy works well enough as is, so it's no surprise to see these additional and lengthier scenes sitting on the cutting room floor. This film could have been pretty mediocre if time management wasn't made a priority, so I'm glad to see these extra clips didn't make it into the finely tuned product.
Also included is a theatrical trailer for the film.
Hard Candy certainly isn't a perfect film, but its strengths more than make up for its weaknesses. The plot may be minimalistic, but this film features, in my opinion, the best performance Ellen Page has ever given. Patrick Wilson is also effective in his role, portraying a man that considered himself to be at the top of the food chain, now acting like he's about to become tomorrow's dinner special. Hard Candy's greatest strength however, comes from its ability to make its audience begin to feel a little unsure about themselves, and they'll most likely walk away from the film not knowing who they should be rooting for, and who they should feel bad for. It's an interesting concept that's pulled off so well, this film is likely to resonate with you for some time after seeing it. The character study on display is just as interesting, too. Take into consideration that this is one fine release from Lionsgate in the audio/video department, and you have nothing short of highly recommended release. If you've never heard of this film before, there's never been a better time to get acquainted.