Bitter is more like it.
Director David Slade's first feature, working from a screenplay by playwright Brian Nelson (who thinks he's channeling the blunt force of David Mamet and Neil LaBute), is irresponsible and ugly, pretentious and incoherent, obvious and blood-thirsty - a sour piece of provocation you cannot help getting sucked into for 30 minutes (at the least).
Just don't bring a date.
And for heaven's sake, don't go alone. It's not that it's frightening (unpleasant and unsavory, yes; scary, no). It's just that it's, well
You'd look odd sitting alone.
Slade begins with an online conversation between two unseen chatters. Before this movie is over you'll squirm every few blinks, but no worse than here, where the film is at its most teasing (and least violent). His name is Lensman319; he says he's a 32-year-old photographer, and since this is online, we take it on faith he's a he. Her name is Thongrrrl14; she peppers her messages with hip name-drops (author Zadie Smith, for instance) and though he seems to be slyly seducing her, she seems to welcome it. She also mentions, with a studied nonchalance, she's 14.
They meet. In a public spot.
They head back to his place.
Alarms in your head brrrnng.
Particularly because Lensman319 (Patrick Wilson, the Mormon from Angels in America) looks nothing like a big bad wolf. He's amiable for a pedophile (if indeed that's what he is); he's well-mannered, dressed in clean shirts, comfortably wealthy - as far as you can get from the image of the dirty old man in a trench coat.
Thongrrrl14 (newcomer Ellen Page, who plays Kitty Pryde in next week's X-Men movie) is everything you fear (and he hopes): She wears a red hoodie (for those who don't get the allusion immediately) and a saucer-eyed expression and a pixieish haircut. She carries a backpack.
What's in the backpack is
Since a lot of the shock of Hard Candy depends on a series of neck-snapping reversals (and counter-reversals), if you plan on seeing this stop reading now.
But then do I have to warn you something bad is about to happen? That this something will likely toy with your preconceptions about predator and prey?
Because Hard Candy skirts the edge of the art house, we instinctively suspect self-important philosophical debates are coming up, along with head games and people bound to chairs in nice apartments. And there is a strength in its arguments: When the guy ends up tied to the chair, when she turns the tables and proves to be equally repellent, you ask, Is she a monster herself or a product of adult monsters?
What you're not so much expecting, what catches in your throat - bumping aside questions of vigilante justice and online pedophilia - is the torture. In the name of vengeance, I suppose. Tough to say. Though the film clearly believes that pedophiles deserve to be chopped up in tiny pieces, it turns so shrill, and Page's character into such an avenging soulless demon girl, that shock value is all that's left.
That and Page, whose performance shows such creepy conviction, along with the unblinking certainty of a teenager, she single-handedly makes Hard Candy worth putting up with.
Her character is more abstract idea than human - a psycho chick (you can tell guys made this) who pulls surgical gloves and medical books out of her backpack and talks of "performing preventive maintenance." Like a lot of the pictures obsessed with torture, a brainless monotony settles in that, particularly here, with a subject so grave, becomes the biggest, and least intended irony, of all.
We feel nothing.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org