The start of an unforgettable date.
After getting to know 14-year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) during three weeks of flirtation on an internet chat room, 30-year-old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) takes her back to his house, where the girl makes them screwdrivers. After a few drinks, Hayley suggests that Jeff take sexy pictures of her and she begins to dance suggestively on his couch. As Jeff breaks out his camera, he begins to feel woozy and soon keels over unconscious. Upon coming to, Jeff finds that he's securely tied to a chair and Hayley's innocent and precocious demeanor is cast aside to reveal a cold and vicious sociopath with an agenda.
To give away more would be grossly unfair to curious viewers, so I won't go any further with the plot particulars. What I will say is that as the story unfolds, the audience is taken along on a journey into every man's very worst nightmare. Is Hayley insane? What is her motivation? Is Jeff actually a predator of underage girls?
HARD CANDY is a nail-bitingly intense psychological battle wherein the seemingly weaker opponent wields several clear and very strong advantages, so Jeff's situation is a steady descent into hopelessness. Basically a two-character study (though three other characters make very brief appearances), the film is a tour de force of performances from the leads, both of whom are utterly believable in their roles, but Page's Hayley comes from out of nowhere to join the short list of cinema's all-time most terrifying psychos, and she only gets more fear-inducing with each passing moment. She's brilliant, methodical, and veers between overwrought adolescent histrionics and icy coldness as she torments her captive and plays with his mind and body in the most cruel of ways.
Believe it or not, this is the relative calm before the storm...
Psychological horror is far less easy to pull off than narratives showcasing rapacious monsters or implacable slashers, and HARD CANDY succeeds at its horrific flavor in every possible way. It's a true make-you-squirm thriller, especially for males, and if there is any justice it will eventually be rightly recognized as the classic that it is. This is movie with very, very sharp teeth and you had better believe me when I tell you it is not afraid to go there. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
Poster from the theatrical release.