Saturday, June 17, 2006

Maybe 'Harder Candy'...?

Cinema-goers, please put this on your 'to see' list.

The move is Hard Candy. The director is David Slade (you've never heard of him), the writer is Brian Nelson (um...episodes of Lois & Clark and Earth: Final Conflict). It stars Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page, who might be vaguely familiar from Phantom of the Opera and X3 respectively.

But the track-record means nothing - certainly it proves nothing. Because what cinema audiences are seeing right now is one of the sharpest, slickest little indie movies you'll see.

If you missed the hype (it has only two main actors, only three locations and most likely zero budget, but there HAS been hype), here's the nutshell:

14 year-old girl meets 32 year-old guy on the internet. They get on in that special way, so meet up. Flirt, flirt, flirt, she ends up at his place. Oh dear. Next thing you know - he wakes up tied to a table and she's about to castrate him with her help of one of her Dad's textbooks.

That, by the way, is no spoiler. It's more-or-less in the trailers, and it's the first half-hour.

Hard Candy is a movie of wonderful ambiguity. You will NOT be offered easy answers. He's a child-molester (possibly with consent...maybe), she's a psychopath. Pick a side.

Well, actually, no, don't. There are no sides here. There's no good coming out of this. He should be locked up, actually; something I'll come back to in a second. But her? She's a danger to society, too. Scary-smart and totally insane.

So, should he be locked up? She's flirting with him clear as day, she's mentally much older than 14 (though very much not physically), and he even says he'll have to wait four years for her. (That's America, though. Over here he'd only have to wait two.)

That kinda greys things up a little.

Still, in what is by far the best discussion of an extremely intelligent screenplay, Hayley gives a compelling argument against the whole 'SHE seduced ME' angle. The essence of it is something like this: A child may be able to pretend to be an adult, but that doesn't mean she is one. When she comes on to you, you're still the responsible adult in the situation - you don't encourage it. You tell her to cut it out and back off. That's the adult thing to do.

Now I know, I know. I've seen 20 year-old hotties who've been revealed to be 13 year-olds developed beyond their years, deliberately pretending to be older. I know, I understand. But that's not what we're talking about here, with this movie. We're talking about two people:

- A girl who looks young, is young and admits to being young

- A guy who searched the internet to find someone underage

These undisputed facts of the film mean that the basics of the blame are totally clear. If she hadn't been so forward, he'd have seduced her anyway - he's good at it, he's done it before. When she offers to go to his place it could just as easily have been him letting her THINK she suggested it. This is NOT the grey area.

It's hard to talk any further without blowing the twists. Suffice to say that your sympathies will bounce from one to the other, rarely rest in either place, but similarly they won't disappear completely. That, friends and neighbours, is one hell of a juggling act for a writer and a director.

So, kudos for a script that's deliberately claustrophobic but never feels small - despite the whole thing being based around two characters talking in three locations. (It is, frankly, almost a stage play.) Ditto kudos to a director who brings smart visual flair to what could have been a very bland shoot. The photography is lush but harsh, the movement constant. And the performances are as genuine, classy and un-cliched as you can imagine. No type-casting here.

The final act loses things a bit, with the twists used up it falls to a case of demand and counter-demand. But at least they don't go the Wild Things route and chuck in two more twists just for the hell of it. And yes, the film draws some annoyingly straight lines between pedophilia and murder - the topic is simplistically handled in what had, otherwise, been a layered and complex script. (The guy's job, photography, causes Hayley to ask interesting questions about just what all those images of young flesh actually mean.)

That aside, it's a golden flick. It crackles. And the torture? Horror directors everywhere wish they could work this kind of magic. Because all the squirming in the world doesn't change the fact that a) it's a nightmare to watch, and b) you hardly see anything. An out of focus video camera shot in the background. Maybe some blood on a scalpel after the fact. That's all.

And the dialogue in the aftermath, from both players, delivered with such intense truth, is some of the blackest, funniest, most uncomfortable you've seen since...well, let's say Fight Club.

Still, go, see it, have an opinion. The Internet Movie Database message board is rife with nonsense about it - blowing twists left and right as some yell that he got what was coming to him and others miss the point entirely and wonder why Hayley wasn't cast as a hot cheerleader-type. (But have a look after you see the film. There are some really DUMB interpretations about twists that aren't twists for a crowd who, I guess, are more used to the Cruel Intentions movies.)

This, though, is my final point. And it's one I hope I'm wrong about.

In this write-up I've mentioned Cruel Intentions and Wild Things. Two film series (yes they are, both have had two direct-to-video sequels each) that thrive on a popular mix of nubile sexiness, seduction, murder/violence and double-cross.

Now don't get me wrong, I love all those things as much as the next guy. But when an audience confuses Hard Candy with this...well, what shall we say? This more 'base' kind of cinema...you have to worry about sequels.

Cruel Intentions and Wild Things both had solid first films, remember. Reputable, even. Classical adaptation, strong cast, decent director, whatever. Proper, solid movies - films.

But the sequels? Fun they are, and entertainment. But not so much with the great art. And that's just fine too. I like a movie that gives you a mystery and the horn.

What I don't like is an audience who thinks Hard Candy is ready for this kind of treatment. Because it's not. But when they go DTV for American Psycho 2, you start to worry just how many people - executives and audiences alike - missed the point.

So I'm asking now for a total ban on any of the following:

Hard Candy 2: Cherry Red
Hard Candy 2: Sweet Centre
Hard Candy 2: Jawbreaker
Hard Candy 2: Suck It and See

Thank you.

4 Comments:

At Thu Jun 22, 03:37:00 pm, Blogger China Blue said...

Thought I'd swing by and say 'hi' since you were kind enough to do so - thanks!
Great review of Hard Candy - I want to see it - and I hooted out loud at the sequel title suggestions.

 
At Thu Jun 22, 07:34:00 pm, Blogger sorking said...

Why thank ya, Miss Moxy!

 
At Fri Jun 23, 04:10:00 pm, Blogger tbone said...

Hey buddy! Thanks for sending me over here.

FYI - the age of consent varies from state to state in the US. Most of the time it's 16 if both parties are minors, or 18 when one of the parties is not a minor (or over 25 or some arbitrary statute).

 
At Fri Jun 30, 10:46:00 am, Blogger sorking said...

Forgot to reply to this, Tbone!

The suggestion in the article was, still, basically sound - he's in his 30s, she's a minor. He'd have to wait til she was 18.

But I take your point that that wouldn't be the case if they were both the same age.

 

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