Hard Candy is such a fun film to watch. It turns viewers’ expectations on their head as it presents a pedophile (or at very least an ephebophiliac, though an assertion is made that he may be a pedophile, so I will stick with that) as someone you may actually have some (but very little) sympathy for as he is seemingly tortured. That’s a real fine balancing act to pull off effectively. Too far in one direction and you have what lazy critics call “torture porn.” Too far in the other direction and you have a creepy movie about a sympathetic pedophile. Director David Slade and writer Brian Nelson walk that high wire the entire running length. They understand the danger they have placed the plot in, and they give the audience credit for being intelligent enough to see what they are doing. In that sense, Hard Candy becomes an act of trust between the filmmakers and audience, while the entire film itself is based around lies (a pedophile who lies to lure a teenage girl to his home, and a teenage girl who pretends to be a victim). Once you start delving into the implications presented in the picture it is hard to dismiss it as a mere thriller.
I have heard it asked how such a young girl (she is 14 in the film) can outwit a grown man who has obviously partaken in such acts before. There are, of course, a thousand different answers that can be given, but I think one that hasn’t been discussed much is that even as teenagers, girls are very aware of their sexuality, even moreso than boys, who are controlled by their own sexual urges and have little in the way of understanding them. Girls realize the control their sexuality has over others. Really intelligent girls know how to use this to their full advantage, and men often underestimate this skill despite the fact that they curse it so much instead of respecting it. When it comes to sex, few men ever make it out of their teenage years, while teenage girls are forced to grow up faster. They know what those leers mean and those “accidental” touches indicate. That is how Page’s character pulled it off. She knew what drove men … especially men turned on by teenage girls. Watch any episode of To Catch a Predator, which is really nothing more than pedophilia you can feel good about, and you will see the same ideas in action. Men will travel hours, ignoring every sign that says he is about to be entrapped, simply because of the promise of a sexual encounter with a girl. Most men are controlled by sex plain and simple.
Hard Candy is not a disturbing film. In fact, it is quite tame. (And, let’s be honest, the writer and director could have made this even more of moral swamp to drown in, but decided to let the audience off easy.) Almost all of the damage done to the pedophile, played well by Patrick Wilson, is psychological … until the end at least. If it were remade today, one has no doubt that would be remedied … and the film would then fall off that high wire I mentioned earlier. As it stands, it is a subtle and smart commentary on the notion of victims, predators and prey, and what it means to be any of those things.
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