Movie Reviews
11:53 am
Wed May 3, 2006

Hard Candy

The power of words can be the real torture.

"If thou dost slander her and torture me,

Never pray more; abandon all remorse;

On horror's head horrors accumulate;

Do deeds to make heaven weep, all earth amazed;

For nothing canst thou to damnation add

Greater than that." Shakespeare's Othello

When 32 year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) hooks up with 14 year old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) in Hard Candy, it's a memorable alliance for feminists who hold Lorena Bobbitt in awe and rewatch Stephen King's Misery for torture pointers. Anyone who saw the trailer and those who want to know a smidgen about the plot will not be disappointed in this thriller's capacity to attract and repulse as Hayley drugs, binds, and tortures him for actions in the past about which he claims to have been "very aware of the legal boundaries."

Having recently seen the play Blackbird in London's West End, essentially a two-hander about a 12 year old girl returning at 27 to her middle-aged abuser, I was prepared for a cinematic version of what could have as well been a play (think Mamet's Oleana). I was also in shape to take the blows. What I didn't figure was Ellen Page's masterful performance, alternately malignant and intelligent, so realistic as to make the most innocent of the audience wary of ever even talking to a young teen who may be concealing a hatred of men (Don't start counting them; you'll never stop).

So successful is director David Slade at bouncing sympathy and pity from one character to the other that you will unlikely forget the guilty feeling of ever caring for either miscreant. Yes, there are times of sympathy for either character because of the graphic torture and humiliation, making it much easier to accept the punishment as minister of good for future generations. In the age of Abu Ghraib, the tortures by both characters, very much in the present for Hayley and allegedly in the past for Jeff, are not as harrowing as the psychological pain she inflicts on him by describing at each step the castration she, as daughter of a med student, will perform on him as "a little preventive maintenance."

Real hard candy has always been pretty to behold but hard to eat. The film's characters are pretty, but like the candy and the film downright uncomfortable to watch. As in any high-quality theater, the power of words can be the real torture.