Friday, July 1, 2011

Candy Land

Okay, I still haven't seen the new Transformers movie. There are many out there breathing a sigh of relief (it was commented by my ticket taker while attending a second showing of Midnight in Paris on Wednesday that he was so happy to see someone seeing that film on Transformers release night; I told him to sod off), but eventually I'm going to get to it. This means that those of you film purists who might prefer Hello, Mr. Anderson to review nothing but dramatic foreign films subtitled exclusively in Helvetica get a reprieve... THIS time. Come Monday this site WILL be headlined by a giant Optimus Prime poster while the borders of the page stream live scenes from other excellent Michael Bay films. So, all you film snobs out there can be thankful I haven't unleashed that epic awesomeness on your pretentious hides and settle for a well-received (if American) low-budget indie film, in this case the psychological thriller Hard Candy. This was another recommendation from "Southland Dan", and I have to say this film sure came with some pre-warnings. My roommate watched the movie and refused to speak for days afterward, huddling in a corner and scrawling nearly illegible messages on her walls about the koalas coming to steal her teeth while she slept. Granted, she was going through eucalyptus withdrawal at the time, so perhaps that wasn't too unusual. However, there was also our friend Ryan, who suffered a leg injury in Dan's presence (under mysterious circumstances) before seeing Hard Candy, and had been unable to stand up while being coerced into watching it. Both these sources admitted that the film was quite good, but something in there freaked them out beyond all belief. Mr. Anderson was going to find out why.

Have you seen this girl? You know, before Juno
Hard Candy opens with a silently disturbing scene, an online chat between Hayley Stark (Ellen Page), a 14-year-old girl, and Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson), a 32-year-old professional photographer. In case their casual flirting was not cringe-worthy enough, the two plan to meet in person in the near future. Once they do that, Jeff convinces Hayley to come over his house, where the two enjoy drinks and Jeff's collection of photos of under-aged near-nude teen models. Then... well, that's the thing, isn't it? I wasn't warned what would happen, and while part of me would like to spoil every scary detail, if you don't know what happens you should watch this and find out for yourselves. Let it be said that a character's fight for survival has rarely been more satisfying or riveting.

La Femme Nikita she ain't
Released in 2005, Hard Candy was the feature film debut for director David Slade, whose earlier work consisted of mainly music videos. Since this particular film, Slade's film career has hardly been gangbusters, as his name has only been associated with the underrated 30 Days of Night and the just-about-correctly rated Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Of course, Hard Candy was far more limited than either of those efforts, with a budget of less than a million dollars and most of the filming done on a sound stage. The low quality does on occasion become obvious, but not often enough to be either a distraction or a hindrance. Slade does end many scenes by fading to black, which gets old after the first time and doesn't even do a good job of setting up any false endings. Obviously, he was still in music video mode, unsure how to quite master the idea of a narrative that went on for more than a few minutes at a time.

Four out of five doctors agree: this movie is MESSED UP
The acting is quite good, and even if the film really boils down to a two person show, it's an excellent one. Patrick Wilson had impressed me this year with his work in the horror film Insidious, and I was happy to once more witness a strong performance from him, and at a time when he was even less of a known quantity than he is now. Is Jeff a pedophile or isn't he? That's the question Hard Candy constantly asks you, and it's to his credit that you really aren't sure through the entirety of the film. Ellen Page was still two years away from critical acclaim and several award nominations for her leading role in Juno, but even here she shows a remarkable talent, as Hayley is rich and full of character. Page is not unrecognizable; her nymph-like looks are immediately discernible to anyone who has seen any one of her films, but the amount of personality that is not hers that she can convey is almost paramount. This might be the best I've seen of Page, as her more high-profile roles really pale in comparison. Sandra Oh makes a small appearance, but any hoping to see a performance as strong as those in Sideways or Grey's Anatomy will be disappointed.

You don't want to know... but you should watch anyway
For the few faults it carries, Hard Candy is a much better film than you might think the first five minutes in. Slade's directorial debut is far from perfect, yet he does manage to hold the audience's loyalties in the palm of his hand as he ups the ante at every turn. The amazing talent at his disposal helps seal the deal, and while some might get turned off by the themes present, Hard Candy is definitely worth a rental if you're into this particular genre. If you're not, well, I still think you should give it a shot. I call to all of you to set your pretensions aside; to embrace other ways of thinking.

That should get you prepared for the Transformers review Monday.

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