Hard Candy
Directed by: David Slade
Written by: Brian Nelson (screenplay)
Starring: Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson, Sandra Oh, and Odessa Rae

Frankenstein’s Monster has taken many forms since its inception in Mary Shelley’s novel.  A monument to its creator’s sins, the original incantation runs amok strangling and killing villagers; he is never spoken of by the doctor, and that is the source of his madness. Hard Candy reminded me of Frankenstein at its core, but it wears its film influences a little lighter.

Connoisseurs of horror will immediately draw parallels to the gruesome if meditative late 90s Japanese horror film Audition, but many will go straight for a teen version of Saw.  Hard Candy is all of these, and at the same time stakes a territory of its own. 

Ellen Page takes on one of the riskiest roles a budding teen actress can take in this industry: an interesting one.  She plays Hayley Stark, a seemingly flirtatious young girl who chats with an older man named Jeff (Patrick Wilson) on the internet and arranges a meet-up. The initial scenes focus on their Meet Cute, but here it would be more aptly titled a Meet Creepy. 

After going back to their apartment and consuming screwdrivers and exchanging further banter, the horror thrills start to set in.  Audition was a caustic, meditative look at subtle sexism’s festering beneath the surface of Japanese culture.  Hard Candy would be its rampaging, American id.  Though no single scene in this film is more violent than the climax of Audition, the tension is ratcheted up constantly, extending the Japanese film’s third act to fill nearly an entire film.

Because it’s so long, we see through the now-thinly veiled layers of psychosis in Hayley.  Page expertly keeps audience members guessing, and her performance rotates between justifiable anger and sheer madness.  We as viewers want to sympathize with her at first, and it is in that constant back-and-forth loyalty that director David Slade finds his momentum.  Choosing allegiances in a film has rarely been so difficult, and ultimately, pointless.  That is the point.

Hayley claims to be taking vengeance for all the girls Jeff has harmed.  With a palette of enhanced colors (especially the reds), she wanders this pedophile filmmaker’s house exposing his every secret with glee.  These are the best scenes because they are effective at turning the tables without going too far, which Hard Candy inevitably does.

I suppose you could read this movie as a comment on the torture porn boom, one where those filmmakers are pedophiles and screenwriter Brian Nelson is the avenging angel.  In most of these movies, Hayley would be the victim.  The movie doesn’t play that trick tongue-in-cheek, and as a result starts to overstay its welcome even clocking in under 2 hours.

You’d think a man would learn his lesson after being castrated, but alas, she must go take a shower and allow him time to realize what’s actually happened to him, escape and continue the movie for more now-pointless rounds of torture.

That faux castration scene is played to such precision that the pointlessness is even further emphasized.  Slade structures the scene like the rest of the film, sequences unfolding in real time broken up by time lapses, but his control here is more measured.  He keeps the scene moving by doing several creative pans that don’t go to the other side of the room, but to a completely different angle.  You’ll start by surveying Jeff’s bound body from the side, and a pan will take you over Hayley’s shoulder to see his front.

The varying perspectives in these shots bring up another point that needs to be made: there are no varying perspectives in the characters.  Slade’s directing is completely competent, even semi-nuanced given the story, but the screenplay doesn’t dig deep enough.  This is a revenge parable whose motives don’t make us sympathize enough with Hayley to justify her brutal means.  She symbolizes something, and that is meant to be enough, but it isn’t.

Those faults aside, Hard Candy is an overall success because the actors transport us into a flawed world.  Wilson plays Jeff as a man with no options that garners sympathy because of what is happening to him and not who he is.  Though not a lot of blood is spilled (none, really), the film can come off as too much.  That is the work of a skilled director who was ultimately just doing his job.

Page and Wilson weren’t just doing this for the paycheck, because roles like these are risky.  Page, as we all know, went on to critical fame to play Juno, another teen with word vomit who is pursued by an older man.  She handles that one a little more tongue-in-cheek.

Grade: B-

REVIEW: The Social Network

The Social Network
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and Armie Hammer

There are girls playing PlayStation in the next room, and you’re uploading internet code.  Such are the ways of kings in the 21st century, and one of the keenest insights made in David Fincher’s The Social Network.

As you probably know by now, this is “The Facebook Movie.”  It’s also a potent drama, fueled by stories and themes as ancient as both stories and themes.  Betrayal, identity, and the nature of friendship are all at the core of Aaron Sorkin’s stunning screenplay.  The Sorkin/Fincher pairing, however unlikely, pays off in spades.

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Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Written by: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofer, and Daniel Olbrychski

In the age of the 3D cash-in, Hollywood has been lax on its movie stars.  Unless you call Sam Worthington, “star” of Avatar and Clash of the Titans, one, you don’t actually find many legitimate celebrities inhabiting these movies for more than a cameo.  You can say what you want about explosions and gun shots flying at you in 3D, but if you don’t have star power behind it, your movie will just be replaced by the next quick sell.

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REVIEW: Predators

Directed by: Nimród Antal
Written by: Alex Litvak & Michael Finch (screenplay)
Starring: Adrian Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, and Laurence Fishburne

If someone had told me at the beginning of the year that Adrian Brody would be the sci-fi star of 2010, I would’ve either chuckled or responded with “Yeah, so?”  With his performance in Splice as a genetic engineer he gave us an emotional core, and with Predators he returns to the King Kong action hero he surprised us with in 2005.

Predators is another franchise reboot, and it’s not too bad.  For the action-junkies out there looking to avoid Despicable Me or any of the other 3D cash-ins of the week, here is a semi-intelligent, well-made thriller.  It borrows from The Most Dangerous Game, which in its original form is a demented guy who brings people to his island so he can hunt them.  Here, it’s high-tech aliens.

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