The issue at hand in Hard Candy (2005)--a 32-year-old man who meets a 14-year-old girl online and takes her back to his house--is a serious one worth consideration but twenty minutes in, when the girl exchanges girl scouts for a more vengeful Mike Hammer-ish attitude, any sense of topicality vanishes. Hard Candy plays like a 17th century puritan witch-hunt but on kiddy porno: the movie revels, as did the puritans, in sadistically torturing others. It is a haughty stance, at once unsympathetic and uninsightful. The movie is not so much interested in socio-politics as it is in abusing it as a jump-off for an hour long torture sequence, as lacking in any moral standpoint as the characters are.
Since the film jettisons any serious social discourse, I’m not going to dwell on it. Cinematically, the film still belies its exploitive core with its compositions, carefully framed to keep the most disgusting moments off screen (such as the much hyped castration sequence). If on-screen the action is somewhat restrained, the soundtrack picks up the slack and delights in squishy, cringe-inducing sounds like someone hiding a whoopee cushion under their own seat during a family dinner.
What’s most enraging about Hard Candy is that its filmmakers are playing the audience for a patsy. Writer Brian Nelson and Director David Slade mask this amoral, one-note torture story with a topic that elicits extreme emotions from the audience: it tries to justify its own sadism through society’s intolerance for pedophilia. The movie waxes extremist like a moral equivalent to fascism: the demonization of the villain is aroused so easily the filmmakers hardly have to do any work. The girl,then, at once playing the hero and the psychopath, gets off the hook. This duality is not so much a contradiction as it is a necessity in the script: the movie needs a mechanism to fulfill society’s collective intolerance. Such a movie is so emotionally exploitive of the audience that we, the viewers, aren’t sure what to think: not wanting to condone the villain, and at the same time not wanting to let him get away with murder (among other crimes equally deplorable), the filmmaker has maneuvered the audience into a crossroad where personal feelings get in the way of both an aesthetic judgement of the film, as well as a more objective appraisal of how it handles social issues.
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