A review of “Hard Candy” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language and disturbing sexual content

Run Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

 

 

Straight off the front pages and onto the big screen, “Hard Candy” deals in internet stalking with deliberate and disturbing finesse.

A smart and sassy teen (Ellen Page as Hayley Stark) falls prey to 30-something fashion photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) online and agrees to meet him for coffee. Innocent flirtation quickly escalates to loaded provocation and Hayley finds herself at Jeff’s place, mixing screwdrivers and prepping for an impromptu (and semi-clothed) photo shoot.

The sinister sensibility of online seduction turns a tricky one-eighty; once ensconced at Jeff’s it seems the cunning jailbait is the stalker, determined to stick her twisted nymph-lover to the wall.

Thanks to the power of the internet Hayley has done her homework and has the edge a la dirty details of Jeff’s perverted extracurriculars. Wasting no time on pleasantries she sets about drugging her deviant hostage, lashing him to a table and carrying on with unspeakable acts of torture. Carpe diem.

As a distressing parallel to the crayola-washed imagery Hayley conducts an inspired monologue on the evils of pedophilia, punctuating her lecture on salvation with frightening statistics and hardcore promises of hurt.

 “Hard Candy” is not for the faint of heart, perpetually on the precipice of something dusky and hostile. Page is brilliant as a nubile feminist warrior with a ton of something to prove, managing to keep it emotionally shrewd while crossing physical boundaries galore.

Director David Slade goes way too far with the ghastly visuals but hammers home his red-flag message with a timely narrative that’s curiously sticky with the residue of lurid exploitation.