Hard Candy

Monday, August 06, 2007

What's worse, a paedophile or a self-righteous teenage girl? I'm going to go with the self-righteous teenage girl, because while a paedophile is a pervert and a wrecker of lives, at least he isn't an annoying harpie – women don't half go on when they have a bee in their bonnet.

There's a point in Hard Candy where, after lots of abuse and torture, the paedophile frees himself and goes after the girl that's been holding him captive. I'm sure the filmmakers didn't intend it, but you kind of end up rooting for the pervert. You want the girl to get a taste of her own medicine. The reason for this is pretty simple: male pride. You kind of feel embarrassed for the guy that some little girl could so literally have him by the balls. You're letting the team down, mate.

But seriously, it's a both a strength and a failing that the film generates this reaction. It's a strength because it asks you where your priorities lie and because it questions whether revenge is worse than the act that inspired it, but it's also a failing because it's not the reaction the film wants. It doesn't want you to take sides. It wants to make you think. But because the paedophile in this film has so little time to make an impact before being tied up and abused, and because the girl is so wretched, it ends up making you root for one person or the other. And out of the two people you're presented with, the pervert seems like the lesser of two evils. Yes he may love young flesh, and yes he's probably complicit in a murder, but at least he knows when to shut up.

That's not to say that the writing or acting in this film is lacking. Instead it's the nature of teenage girls; they ain't half annoying. They see everything in black and white, and while everything is someone else's fault, they take no responsibility at all for their actions. So it is here. Haley, the avenging angel, talks about how easy it is for predators to blame other people for their actions while talking to a man she's tied to a chair. The roles have been reversed, and as a consequence she's appropriated his mantle. She's now the sub-human scum. Not that this absolves Jeff. Instead it illustrates the way that power corrupts: our need to right wrongs can't be achieved by torture. Or at least it can't be achieved without irreparably damaging the soul.

However, it's possible to argue that the girl here doesn't even exist. She could simply be Jeff's conscience. There are certainly enough little details that don't quite add up. For example, for such a little girl, Haley doesn't half appear to be strong. She's able to drag a fully grown man along the floor and tie him up. And later on she's even able to stand him and try and hang him. These are all things that are beyond the capabilities of a skinny fourteen-year old girl. Therefore I like the idea that she doesn't exist at all.

Remember also that every detail she gives is a lie. At the end we have no idea who she is or what her name is. And she even tells Jeff that she's every little girl he's touched, raped or murdered. So could this be a manifestation of Jeff's guilt?

Another little clue is the ease in which Haley breaks into Jeff's safe. She doesn't have to do much struggling to find the code. Then there's the way that she knows that Jeff's neighbours are out. A teenager, with parents and school to answer to, wouldn't have the time to gather that information. Therefore it seems more than possible to me that subconsciously Jeff has chosen this time to wrestle with his demons. With no one around there's no one to stop him.

You could even argue that the email Haley sends to Jeff's old flame is Jeff forcing his hand. With someone on the way he has to go through with killing himself. Otherwise he faces exposure and a prison sentence. And the assurances that Haley gives him that she'll cover up all the evidence if he hangs himself are merely self-delusions that give him the wherewithal to go through with it. Her line, '…or maybe not' after he jumps is reality kicking in at the last second.

Then there's the castration scene. Haley doesn't really go through with it – it's a charade. So maybe this is some sort of drastic recourse Jeff considers but can't go through with – perhaps he wants to castrate himself to prevent him abusing any more girls, but only realises later that he can't do it and that it wouldn't change anything anyway.

Slightly harder to explain is the scene with Sandra Oh, the only scene, aside from the beginning, where the outside world creeps into the film. But then again this could be looked upon as a silly fantasy on the part of Jeff – with a noose around his neck, he's hoping that someone will come in and rescue him and make everything better, but as we later find out, that's not going to happen.

To believe in a theory other than this is to believe in a rather silly, unbelievable horror flick with a female Hannibal Lector in the central role. The female lead here is absurdly smart and well organised. Plus, as I've already said, she's unbelievably strong. But whether the film's meant to be strict reality or not, Ellen Page is great in the role. She's both charming and annoying, and very threatening, too. You fully believe she's capable of cutting a man's balls off. And although I don't agree with most of what she says, I do agree with her on one thing. Goldfrapp fucking suck.

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