September 21, 2006

DVD Review: Hard Candy

Wow, what a twisted little movie! I first heard about this film some months ago, around the time of its limited theatrical run. Unfortunately, it never came around my area, so it sort of slipped to the back of my mind. Then, a co-worker asked me if I had seen it, of course I hadn't. He then went on to tell me that I absolutely had to see it. OK, I'll bite. I made it a point to see it, now I have, and that brings me back to my first comment, what a twisted little movie.

Independent films are interesting beast. There are a lot of them, a lot of junk and a lot of undiscovered classics, and even more that fill the seas between those shores. You will occasionally pick up a movie based on its title, or a particular star, or cover art, or some other inane reason in the hopes that it will be a good movie. Sometimes you end up at the high end with something like Session 9 or somewhere else with a movie like Sorry, Hater. That is not to say that either one of them a bad movies, but they appeal to different people for different reasons, and by the choices I made you get a decent idea of the direction that my tastes lie.

There are still other indie films that build up something of a reputation around them. Hard Candy is one of those movies. It may not have always been at the forefront of my mind, but there is no denying that it has had some buzz around it for a little while. To give you an idea of the reaction people have to the film, consider my way of giving a hint to the movies content, while never giving anything away. They would ask me what it was about, I would just tell them the title refers to internet slang meaning underage girls, which, if you believe the trivia about the film is true, I honestly cannot confirm nor deny it. The reactions range from the intrigued to the disgusted. After you see the movie, you will get it better, whether you like the film or not.

One of the best things that a film can do is spark conversation, Hard Candy excels at it. Character motivations, rational behavior, realism, what exactly happened, and the usual technical aspects are all areas that you will be talking, or at least thinking about.

The story was inspired by a Japanese news story about how older men would be lured to a hotel room by an underage girl, where he would get beaten to a pulp by a group of girls. That probably gives you a better idea than my line, but I thinkg mine is more fun, it gets a stronger reaction.

The film opens with an internet chat between our two primary subjects, I won't say the antagonist and protagonist as they don't really apply to this particular couple. The two agree to meet, and the scene shifts to a coffee shop where we are introduced to Hayley (Ellen Page of X-Men: The Last Stand) and Jeff (Patrick Wilson of The Phantom of the Opera). Immediately we see the start of a rather creepy relationship between a man in his early thirties and a fourteen year old girl, and it is enough to really give you a sense of unease. The conversation is subtly manipulative as the direction of their talk moves them from the coffee shop back to Jeff's home.

At Jeff's place, we find the young girl mixing drinks and begin to strip for an impromptu photo shoot, but not is all as it seems. What follows is a psychological war between the two that churn up Jeff's past and expose a certain malice in our previously sweet girl. Depending on where you fall, the chain of events is harrowing, disturbing, maybe a even a little exciting, but what they aren't is dull, or expected. The end result is a story that will dig around in your head as you try to make heads or tails of the dynamic duo.

Over the course of the movie I watched stunned as the Jeff was, essentially, interrogated by the cunning youngster. She had obviously put a lot of thought behind what she was doing, and the question that begs to be answered is what were her real motivations? Was she vengeful over a past friend? Was she just out to punish based just on suspicion? Is this something that she enjoys to do, and will she do it again? On the other side, is Jeff as bad as he seems to be? Is he an innocent bystander who made a mistake? Does he deserve to be punished? There are exchanges that play to a few different directions, but is ultimately left open for a variety of interpretations.

Hard Candy is a delightfully twisted concoction of story, direction, cinematography, and acting. All of those important elements mix and swirl in a way that whether you like it or hate it, you will have a reaction. The screenplay by Brian Nelson is a fascinating battle of wills between two incredibly flawed personalities, there are traits to agree with on both sides, but there is an overpowering reason to dislike everyone. David Slade's directing is dynamic and effective, quite a feat for working with so few characters in a confined location, he makes very good use of close-ups and pans, everything to keep interest up. Then there is the cinematography of Jo Willems and the digital coloring of Jean-Clement Soret. Those two have combined for a gorgeous look, it may be a low budget affair, but it doesn't look it. The coloring, in particular, is very striking, and a good example of what you can achieve digitally. Lastly, there is the acting. Both Wilson and Page are intense in their roles, I was utterly convinced that I would not want to spend any time with them, yet I would come back to watch some more.

Video. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it looks very good. The colors are vibrant, the blacks are deep. I was very happy with how the transfer looks, everything is sharp amd I found nothing to complain about.

Audio. The audio is presented in two flavors, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. They both sound good. The movie is very much centered on the dialogue, so there is not a lot of surround activity.

Extras. Hard Candy on DVD is packaged with a nice selection of extras.

  • Commentary. The first commentary features director David Slade and writer Brian Wilson. I sampled a portion of this track, and there is a lot of information to share from these two, and this is well worth the listen.
  • Commentary. The second track features actors Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. This has a little bit more back slapping, and scene descriptions, but it is fun listening to them reminisce, and I like Page's voice.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes. This runs about 10 minutes, and I liked bits of what was cut, but in the end I am glad they were, particularly when speakikng Donna Mauer.
  • Creating Hard Candy. This featurette runs for 50 minutes and covers everything from the creation of the idea through to the post production process. This is a very good extra, lots of interesting information to be gleaned.
  • Controversial Confection. This brief featurette covers the controversial aspects of the film, and the difficulty in selling and marketing it.
  • Theatrical Trailer. The original trailer is included, and it is quite good.
  • DVD-ROM Production Notebook. I did not view this, but it is the screenplay annotated with notes.

Bottomline. This was deliciously malicious, masterfully twisted, and attention consumingly evil. I enjoyed every colorful frame. From the wonderful performances, to the visual dynamics, to the actual believeability of the situation all combine for one of those gems that you find youself thinking about from time to time. This is definitely an experience worthy of having, er viewing.

Highly Recommended.
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