The gruesome thriller "Hard Candy" posits itself as a "Little Red Riding Hood" for the computer age, effectively exploiting male castration fears and the news media's fixation with pedophiles.
Paging Bill O'Reilly!
Sounds like fun, huh? Mostly it isn't, nor is it as incisive -- and I use that word carefully here -- as it thinks it is. But the movie is undeniably impressive in its ability to toy with your sympathies and thoroughly disgust and disturb you in the process.
The film -- stylishly directed by first-timer David Slade and written by playwright Brian Nelson -- opens with a suggestive online exchange between "thonggrrrl14" and "lensman319." The e-mailers agree to meet in a coffeehouse.
The freckle-faced, squeaky-voiced Hayley (Ellen Page) is 14, loves Zadie Smith, Goldfrapp and Elizabeth Wurtzel and can hold her own in suggestive, adult banter. Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a 32-year-old fashion photographer, sophisticated, seemingly nonthreatening.
Hayley suggests returning to Jeff's Hollywood Hills bachelor pad. The walls of his modern, minimalist home are adorned with his own photos of barely clothed pubescent girls. Hayley doesn't seem to notice or mind. She doesn't find either the pictures or Jeff "ooky" (her favorite word).
In fact, it's Jeff who might want to snap out of his reverie and realize that Hayley is no ordinary girl, something he figures out a bit too late after a potent pitcher of screwdrivers.
What follows is a potent game of cat-and-mouse -- or, more accurately, cat and cat. Jeff and Hayley are both predators, and the film's greatest flaw is its conception of its 14-year-old heroine (?) as an avenging angel of death, complete with otherworldly confidence and poise, devoid of the kind vulnerability that would mark a girl of this age. Hayley's vicious competence may make the movie more frightening, but it also robs it of any sense of reality, making it a grim fairy tale best for people who love bad news.
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