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Hard Candy | Review

Be the Hunter

From chat room to panic room – film embraces cat and mouse game formula.

The advent of the internet has meant that millions of strangers have found a common ground to reach out and touch some one. In a small percentage of cases such connections have lead to horrific conclusions. Appropriating the notion that the pleasure in getting to know a stranger is that the magic takes place in that first encounter makes a film like Hard Candy particularly attractive. The film’s timely subject matter, its crisp performances, attention to the look and alluring poster artwork should bring profitability to this Sundance pick, but while filmmaker David Slade’s debut is better than your average teenage horror flick and will have plenty of male viewers crossing their legs there really isn’t much here in terms of substance and voice for what is being said and done.

There is nothing new in this prey versus predator design except that there is no feeling of sympathy towards neither the victim nor the victimizer. The basic premise sees a little miss riding hood motif act as a signifier of the victim laying the trap – a scheming A-grade student with excellent girl-scout knot-tying techniques and by the sound of things, a practicing med-student takes out her frustrations on the ideal victimizer. A girl is missing – could he be the one responsible? Roles are clearly defined from the get go – the only item that is ambiguous is how viewers might relate to the victim – which is perhaps not an issue for most since he is an online predator/pedophilia. Scribe Brian Nelson hatches a plot that plucks from the headlines, and while the script is filled with pointed-sword dialogue and sadism that will please fans of this genre it also remains an empty vessel – characters that are too exaggerated to be modeled after real-life people (only in movieland can such people exist) and a final act that multiples the number of chase scenes only aggravates the minimal interest one might have in discovering the real agenda that this movie may have.

Apart from their brief café encounter, the location of the entire screenplay takes place in one setting – this factor only benefits the film as Slade’s baggage of experience as a commercials and video director allows for a high-quality looking indie-budgeted film and a great looking car commercial inside a film for the Mini-cooper. Slade and long-time collaborator DOP Jo Willems play with a colorization technique that we saw a glimpse of in One Hour Photo and in videos such as Stone Temple Pilot’s Sour Girl. Emotions are highlighted by small adjustments in background colors in a sort of barometer of color schemes that are matched to the changes in behavior – Ellen Page delivers a solid performance in her naïve, poker-faced looking character.

Hard Candy remains a both easy and good looking watch and there is a potential for an amazing short film and somewhere inside a cliffhanger-ending, however the number of confrontations and brief turn-over in power makes it hard to care for the denouement of the feature-length product. Rather than psychotic the script might have been more substantial in terms of psychological patterns, rather than pushing the pacing of the script with more traps and fist fights – the film could have dug deeper into the malaise and the initial seduction phase that gave viewers the creeps. For a better rendition of a minimalist revenge flick: Australia’s Alexandra’s Project is a playful mental mind f*ck worth checking out.

Rating 2 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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