Hard Candy (R)
Dread Central (DVD); IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; FandangoNOW; Google Play; iTunes; Vudu
Caution: potential spoilers.
First I should say, this is a good movie. The reason I don't want to rate it is because my appreciation of the film's quality is greater than my actual enjoyment of it, so I wouldn't want a low rating to give you the wrong idea. It's a good story, with amazing performances from the two lead actors. And it is genuinely frightening. It's also deeply disturbing and hard to watch. (I should also mention that it was made in 2005, two years before Ellen Page became famous for Juno; so chances are, like me, you won't have heard of it until after the latter movie.)
The movie starts with a shot of a computer screen, on which we see text popping up as two people chat online. One is a 14-year-old girl named Hayley (E. Page); the other is a 30-something photographer named Jeff (Patrick Wilson). Their conversation is disturbingly flirtatious. (This I dub "bad idea number one.") They agree to meet at a coffeehouse called Nighthawks. (This I dub "bad idea number two.") They engage in conversation that I found awkward and disturbing, but that's mostly on Hayley's part. I don't really think Jeff said or did anything too inappropriate, though there were perhaps a couple of ambiguous things (including buying her a t-shirt and asking her to model it for him) that were certainly questionable. (Hayley changes in the rest room, but at one point opens the door just for a second before putting on the shirt, which I'll call "bad idea two point one.") When the subject of going to his house came up, Jeff was initially against it. (Or at least made it seem that way, if only slightly. It could very well have been part of his plan to put her at ease. Either way, the fact that she easily talked him into it, I dub "bad idea number three.") Still, he suggested she call her older sister first (who had supposedly dropped her off at Nighthawks); she declined to do so. (Let's call this "bad idea three point one.") When they get to his place, they continue their conversation, which I continue to find awkward and disturbing... again, mostly on Hayley's part. It really does seem like she's the provocateur, in this scenario. Jeff... talks to her as if she's an adult, but still acknowledges that she's underage, and gives every indication of having no intention of doing anything inappropriate with her (though again, this could have been part of his plan). Nevertheless, when she finds his vodka and decides to mix Screwdrivers for each of them, he doesn't object. (This I dub "bad idea number four.")
Now, at this point, despite all the awkwardness and creepiness and all the bad ideas both of them have carried out, and in spite of the fact that many of the models Jeff photographs are underage, it was still possible that the entire situation could turn out to be perfectly innocent (though admittedly, it was more likely that he had inappropriate intentions). However, we have come to the point where I must reveal the potential spoiler, though it's something you'll already be vaguely aware of, if you've done any research on what the movie's about, at all. It turns out, Hayley had drugged Jeff's drink, and he passes out. He then wakes up tied to a chair. Hayley now drops her pretense of being a naive young girl making stupid decisions, and we begin to see that, in spite of her youth, she's actually very smart and clearly insane. She believes Jeff is a pedophile (that's the word she uses, though when I was checking Wikipedia, the site uses the word "hebephile," which I don't think I've heard before, but seems more accurate). He, of course, denies the accusation. She begins searching his apartment for proof, but there doesn't seem to be any. Until she finds a hidden safe, and eventually figures out the combination. In it she finds a picture of a girl... whose name we had earlier seen in the background, a missing person notice on a wall at Nighthawks. (Even then I was sure it was foreshadowing something important.)
Anyway, Jeff continues to deny all of Hayley's accusations, including that he was responsible for the girl's disappearance and probable murder. And the movie greatly disturbs me by virtue of the fact that... in spite of all the bad choices Jeff has made, there's still no clear proof that Hayley is right about any of her suspicions. I don't really want to divulge anything she says or does, but there is a great deal of psychological and physical torture... all of a potentially innocent man. Some of the things she says to him are certainly true, but I think some of the things he says to try to convince her to let him go are also true, even if she reacts sarcastically to them. And I should also point out that, even if it turns out that Jeff is guilty (in which case I'd feel he deserved everything that was done to him), I'd still feel Hayley was wrong (and insane, as I mentioned) to take it upon herself to do any of this. (Though she does make a good, and amusing point regarding her own insanity.) There's also a point at which Jeff relates a story about something that happened to him when he was nine years old. I don't think it would explain or excuse becoming a pedophile (in fact, if anything I'd expect it to make that far less likely to happen). But it did make me feel sorry for him, and it rather paralleled his current situation.
Well, I've already said far more than I intended. Like I said, I'm not revealing all the things the two of them said or did. Nor am I revealing whether it ultimately turns out Hayley was right or wrong about him. And I'm not saying how it all ends. But I must reiterate, it is a deeply disturbing movie, not for the squeamish.