Hayley Stark (a pre-Juno Ellen Page who interestingly enough was born in Halifax) is a fourteen year old girl who meets a trustworthy fellow in a chat room. She agrees to meet him. And meet him she does. He turns out to be the thirty-two year old Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson). At this point alarm bells should be ringing at a rather loud volume. Ah, no, it's alright. He's clean shaven, well dressed, handsome and doesn't smell of rancid lard. Phew. Not a paedo, then. She agrees to go back to his house...
The film pretty much revolves around just these two characters - with a smattering of bit parts as variety - so they had better be good actors. No worries. It's Ellen Page. She's great. She's in the same category as Natalie Portman and Émilie Dequenne. She can make any film watchable and entertaining. Except maybe Inception. But in that, her powers were negated by a general level of boredom. And okay, maybe she didn't swing it for X-Men: The Last Stand, where she was cancelled out by Vinnie Jones. But even if a film was crammed with the aforementioned actresses plus Nathan Fillion, Jackie Chan and Mark Dacascos, Vinnie Jones would still bring the film down to the direst of levels. Suffice to say, Ellen Page is brilliant in this. And Patrick Wilson is not too shabby either.
Acting: tick. Directing: tick. Ish. Most of the film is thoroughly engrossing. By the end of it, I had two major needs: a cup of tea - I like a nice cup of tea - and also, I was desperate for a Peters and Lee. This is just one of those films that demands being watched in one sitting. My only problem with the direction were a couple of action shots where the irritating style brought me crashing out of the experience. They jarred badly with the rest of the film.
The writing definitely gets a tick. Brian Nelson has done a cracking job of not telling us what to think (helped by the general absence of music). For the majority of the time, it's unclear who you're supposed to be rooting for. There are quite a few line from early scenes that resonate later. Some are remarked upon and just push against that border of insulting intelligence but others are left well alone, allowing the viewer to have that moment of realisation without it being pointed out. Good ending, too.
So, why is it supposedly so gruelling? It's virtually gore free. But it does become really tense at times and veers into extreme squirmy territory. Gentlemen: prepare to cross those legs. After watching Martyrs and Antichrist this feels like gruel-lite with 50% less gruel. I wasn't expecting much from Hard Candy but I was pleasantly surprised. This gains my Seal of Approval. Tick.
If you like this you could also try:
Juno, The Tracey Fragments, Antichrist.