‘Hard Candy’ difficult to swallow, worth digesting

Andrew Hampp

Robin Williams stars in the family road trip film, RV. It’s really bad. COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Pedophilia has always been a tricky subject for Hollywood to tackle and still make a decently profitable film.

Last year’s The Woodsman cast Kevin Bacon in the difficult role of a fresh-from-jail pedophile trying to pick his life back up in a new, less than welcoming neighborhood. Also last year, Joseph Gordon-Levitt struggled on-screen with young adulthood after a sexual assault-ridden adolescence in Mysterious Skin.

Only Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Lolita, arguably the most famous story of underage relations ever told, has come remotely close to handling the subject matter of pedophilia with anything but kid gloves.

Hard Candy

Starring Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh

Directed by David Slade

Distributed by Lions Gate Films

Rated R for disturbing violent and aberrant sexual content involving a teen, and for language.

Stater rating (out of five): ????

Until now.

Hard Candy is a razor-sharp (in more ways than one) thriller that has unjustly been sitting on the shelf for more than a year since screening at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

Its plot – 32-year-old photographer (Patrick Wilson) takes precocious 14-year-old L.A. teen (Ellen Page) back to his house with unexpected results – may have been deemed risky, but everything else about the film is on the money.

First, start with Page, the film’s breakout star. A plot twist 20 minutes into the movie may come as a bit shocking to some, but Page is Hard Candy‘s biggest stunner. Her transformation from a chocolate-loving naif to a foul-mouthed female with an agenda is fascinating to watch – and speaks volumes about kids growing up too fast.

The script by Brian Nelson rings with an equal amount of truth. Page’s actions in the film’s final hour or so tap into a lot of fears any normal human being may possess, not to mention a guilt-ridden pedophile. Director David Slade does an impeccable job of keeping the audience guessing as to Wilson’s true nature even when his intentions and history seem all too transparent.

Credit is also due to Wilson for his fine work here. It takes real talent to make an audience sympathize with someone who’s done as many creepy things as his character is accused of. It’s taken Wilson several years to restore the promise he showed in HBO’s adaptation of “Angels In America,” but Hard Candy will help him establish his chops as an engrossing film actor.

Hard Candy has been accused of being exploitative – perhaps rightfully so at certain points – but it is never gratuitous or terribly graphic. The hardest part of Hard Candy to swallow is the script, which makes the film a lot harder to think about rather than to watch. Rather than tear a page out of the Saw and Hostel book of how to truly torture an audience with gory visuals, Hard Candy disturbs its viewer the hard way – it gets under your skin.

Contact campus editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].