A story of predators and prey
Hayley Stark (X3's Ellen Page) is an intelligent, mature 14-year-old who chats online with a guy, and decided to meet him in real life. When she does catch up with Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a 30-something photogragher, at a coffee shop, it sets in motion a day of horror and torture that leaves both people scarred and changed, as they both have an agenda and a large amount of determination. I'll avoid getting to into the specifics, as the revelations should be left to discover.
As one might expect, the film is hardly a comfortable good time, as it is loaded with physical violence, psychological combat and suspenseful moments that never allow one to relax. The main set piece, a torture scene that's played out essentially in real time, will make you squirm, as it puts the viewer in the same spot as the victim, never knowing what comes next. It's horrifying, mainly because it's portrayed without any real exaggeration, making it very believable, which is never a good thing when it comes to experiencing terror second-hand/
The best aspect of this intimate film (there's only four speaking roles, including Sandra Oh's inquisitive neighbor), is the lack of a hero. There are aspects of Hayley and Jeff's actions that make you pull for them, but they are followed by aspects that make you unhappy to have sided with them. It's the kind of ethical complexity that's rarely seen in films, which makes it such a challenging, intelligent movie. It's also part of what makes this a well-written film that favors quality over quantity when it comes to characters.
With so few parts, it was important to find great actors to fill them, especially the part of Hayley. In Page, they found a young girl with impressive range and a visual schizophrenia that sells her character's actions and words. Capable of shifting her expression from innocent to malevolent with seemingly no effort, she can be terrifying and vulnerable at the same time, the perfect combination for this film. As her foil, Wilson leaves nothing in reserve in portraying Jeff. His performance amps up the fright level, making what's already believable into gritty realism. Together, they raise a movie that could have been another come-and-go genre flick into a suspenseful character study deserving of a loyal cult following.
Though the acting makes this movie, it was already two steps ahead of the game with director David Slade at the helm, and his crew at the controls. Hard Candy's look is a big part of its appeal, as the tight zooms, purposeful coloring, and frenetic camerawork make for a claustrophobic, disorienting experience that leaves the audience shaken and stirred. This is one the examples of a film where everyone seems to be on the same page, resulting in an overall excellent film. You just need to be sure you can handle it.
The audio, presented as a 5.1 mix, is also an important part of the movie, and the DVD does a very nice job with it. The film is very small, mainly made up of two people talking, but it's captured beautifully. There are a few moments where the full soundfield is put into play, normally when music is part of the scenes, and they are well reproduced.
"Creating Hard Candy," an extensive documentary about the film, running almost 52 minutes, and viewable as one show or in seven parts, covers the film from its conception to its release. Tons of interviews combine with clips from the film and some behind-the-scenes footage to create a very engaging look at how the film was made. The nine-minute "Controversial Confection: The Soul of Hard Candy" featurette goes deeper into the movie's content and everything that goes into making a movie about such a topic, using the same style as "Creating." Both featurettes have spoiler warnings up-front, so they should be viewed after the film.
Six deleted/extended scenes are included, though none of them would have changed the movie greatly. Including commentary that explains their removal from the film would have been appreciated. These can be viewed separately or all together. The extras wrap with the film's outstanding theatrical trailer, and a reel of four Lionsgate trailers.
Put the disc in a DVD-ROM drive, and you can access a nice flash presentation of the film's script, with accompanying notes and sketches from Slade.
The Bottom Line