It's difficult to review Hard Candy because it is one of those high-tension movies that audiences enjoy most when they don't know what's will happen next. The trailers show footage from only the first 15-20 minutes and, because I didn't know anything beyond the trailer, I was completely surprised by the central set piece. I would never have guessed that this film might include ... that. My goodness. It reminded me of a very funny story about a night out in college with a friend who studied ... well, I can't tell you without spoiling the film. I'll just say that I was aware that writer Brian Nelson must have done his research in regards to the central set piece.
I can tell you that in the opening scene, two people chatting online decide to meet at a coffeeshop. Their conversation indicates that this is a far cry from You've Got Mail. At the coffeeshop, it turns out that Hayley (Ellen Page) is only 14 years old, while Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a successful photographer in his early thirties. Jeff is flirting with danger in many ways, but seems not to realize it. Hayley, meanwhile, seems too young and dumb to recognize her own danger, and invites herself to Jeff's house. He realizes she's only 14 years old, but he takes her home. Whatever may happen next, you know it's going to be trouble. Pay close attention to what you see and hear in the coffeeshop—the filmmakers drop a few subtle clues for suspense and foreshadowing. As the film progresses, you start to think that such-and-such might happen, but the movie twists another way. And then you might think, "Oh, so it's going to be that kind of film," but you would be wrong. By the end of the movie, you are uncertain whether anything is actually what it appears to be.
Ellen Page is amazing as Hayley, but I had to wonder if a 14-year-old would speak in such a sophisticated way. She continually tells Jeff that she's an honor student and reads a lot, but her language still did not seem authentic for a teenager. Patrick Wilson was more convincing in his role as Jeff; his mild-mannered features work to the film's advantage.
Hard Candy's strength is in the way it continually sustains suspense, particularly in the use of sound effects. Very little is shown, but much is heard. The sound effects in the central set piece are perfect. The movie also gets the smallest details right: in one scene, I noticed someone's hand that had been tied up for awhile was starting to turn blue from shock. Director David Slade did an excellent job on his first feature with limited characters and settings.
The intricacies of the plot seem to unravel a little at the end; if you try to piece together certain things afterwards, they might not fit perfectly. A few ambiguities remain as well. However, these minor inconsistencies did not affect my enjoyment of the film. The one moment that did pull me completely out of the film was a bad joke about Roman Polanski, but that may have been intentional to give the audience a break from the mounting tension.
I saw Hard Candy at an Alamo Drafthouse and was warned that I might not want to eat during the movie. I didn't have a problem; this isn't a gory horror movie. Also, the person who warned me was male and at least once in the film, every guy in the audience seemed to have his hand over his face. I am a wicked person because I found this amusing, especially since I've sat through too many films where the women are the ones squirming and hiding their eyes.
I've probably said too much. Or perhaps I haven't. You'll have to see Hard Candy to judge for yourself.