Supposed “horror” movies like the recent slew of remakes (The Hills Have Eyes, When a Stranger Calls) or “new” ideas (Hostel) don’t even come close to truly horrifying their audience. They are designed to startle or disgust their audience. These films present the idea that if you scream you are scared.
In reality, these films are fairly comforting as there is always a hero who saves the day and the mean killer is vanquished. Sure there is usually a hint that some evil survives to terrorize in a sequel but we leave feeling secure in our safe little suburban worlds.
True horror is rarely explored in mainstream cinema. That’s why little will prepare you for the kind of unsettling emotions that are explored in David Slade’s film Hard Candy.
Hard Candy is the story of a precocious teenage girl who tricks a pedophile into taking her home. There she captures him, tortures him and presents him with life and death choices no one should have to face. Slade gets under the skin of both the perpetrator and the supposed victim. Who’s who in this case is a question that you will have to debate amongst yourselves.
Hard Candy is lushly filmed in warm tones mostly in intimate yet claustrophobic close-up. The seduction is disturbing yet somewhat alluring, exploring the complicity in abuse of a society which exalts… no worships… youthful beauty. Then the power is turned over to the most unlikely of hands and things get really nasty. Which is more uncomfortable for us, the rage of a young woman or the humanity of a molesting monster? The sympathy we feel for the tortured or the pleasure we experience in his suffering?
Hard Candy doesn’t shy away from this, instead it gets its hands dirty by forcing us to experience things from both their points of view. Exploring this at all is horrifying for most let alone having to empathize.
Much of the success of the film is due to the performances of the leads. 19 year old Ellen Page (from Halifax!) is striking as the 14 year old personified vengeance. She makes this unlikely scenario believable. You can’t get over the fact that she is 14, even when she performs castration.
Also brilliant is the underrated Patrick Wilson who defies our perceptions of what a pedophile is. He is far too beautiful and perfect to be so flawed. We can’t help but care for his plight despite what he has done.
The film doesn’t give us any happy endings. Nothing is resolved at the end of the movie to make us feel like we are safe or the world is a better place.
Hard Candy is truly horrifying. Cowards sit through slasher films. This is where the heart of darkness really lies.