How far would you go to avenge a friend? How far would you go to make sure that the person who had hurt them would never hurt anyone else ever again? In Hard Candy, vigilantism meets precociousness in the form of Hayley Stark (Ellen Page). Channeling To Catch a Predator, 14-year-old Hayley meets Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) in an online chat room and quickly gains his interest. The two decide to meet in a coffee shop and when Patrick invites Hayley back to his place, what we think is going to be yet another tragic story of a sexually exploited teen girl gets turned completely around when it turns out that Hayley’s the one in control here, and fully intends to make Jeff her victim.
When Hayley and Jeff get back to his place, Hayley not only exposes Jeff for what he his, a dangerous, everyday predator, but exacts one of the most elaborate forms of psychological torture and retribution ever seen on film. What we think will be, at the very least, a sexual predator grooming a girl and committing statutory rape, becomes an unforgettable tale of his would-be victim manipulating him into punishing himself for his crimes. At first portraying herself as flattered and wide-eyed, Hayley is exactly the sort of girl to bring Jeff’s depravity to the surface, and when she does, she reveals herself as far stronger and smarter than he could have ever anticipated.
Brimming with tension and suspense, Hard Candy is a film that turns the tables on perpetrators of sexual violence. Like, Teeth, Hard Candy is regularly described as “horrifying” by men, but lauded as a tale of heroism by women and girls who understand just how rampant rape culture and pedophilia culture are, and how very often the trauma of victims goes ignored while the lives of predators remain unaffected by the destruction they’ve caused. With phenomenal performances by both Page and Wilson, Hard Candy is an the entertaining reminder that, in a system which protects predators, it’s often up to individuals to distribute justice.
I give this one 5 stars.