Film: Hard Candy

Is she trapped... or is she bait?
Strangers shouldn't talk to little girls.

A 2005 psychological thriller/Exploitation Film, featuring Patrick Wilson as a 32-year old photographer named Jeff Kohlver and Ellen Page as the precocious 14-year-old Hayley Stark. They meet at a cafe after chatting online, and agree to go to Jeff's secluded house to have a little fun, where Hayley mixes the drinks and strips for a photo session. It seems that Jeff has the advantage until he passes out, and when he comes to, he is tied to a chair and being investigated by the not-so-innocent teenage girl. What follows is a series of arguments, cat-and-mouse games and psychological torture sessions, culminating in a tense rooftop encounter.

Not to be confused with the Counting Crows album, the title track of that album, or even the other album of the same name by Madonna. Or actual hard candy.

This film provides examples of:

  • The Ace: What Hayley appears to be on the surface - she is highly intelligent, reading books way outside of her maturity level, cute, witty, and seemingly comes from a great family.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Played with as the roles of "psycho" and "victim" switch several times between Hayley and Jeff from the second act onwards.
  • Asshole Victim: If a child killed a child molester, would anyone think less of her for it?
  • Ax-Crazy: Jeff himself in the final act, as he flips out and starts threatening Hayley with a knife after repeatedly stabbing a photograph of a girl.
  • Bifauxnen: Hayley looks more like a cute little boy than a Fille Fatale.
  • Billing Displacement: See that cool, stylized poster up there? It's been replaced by bland face shots of Hayley and Jeff now that Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson are stars.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Ultimately, it's about a murderous paedophile being punished by a teenage girl who's clearly a sociopath.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Played straight with the gun that Hayley finds while searching for Jeff's Porn Stash. Also, the "Missing: Donna Mauer" poster at Nighthawks.
  • Covers Always Lie: Ellen Page only wears that red hoodie in the final scene.
  • Date My Avatar: Goes both ways. We have this charming guy and this sweet young girl, and they have so much in common, but they are both faking it. They are really predators, trying to lure each other into a trap.
  • Deadly Bath: Defied, in its 'girl goes to take a shower with the psycho in the house' variation. When the man holding the knife bursts into the bathroom and pulls back the shower curtain, he finds it empty. Then the girl leaps out from behind him holding a stungun.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: When Jeff and Hayley first meet and he offers to send her bootleg MP3s:
    Hayley: You have the concert?!
    Jeff: Just one song. And a little louder, please, so the authorities know!
  • Dirty Old Man: Jeff has the typical perverted personality, but he is legitimately charming and physically attractive and only about thirty.(This acts as a deconstruction, actively undoing the idea that child molesters are creepy, obvious criminals, and uses his good looks up until the end to remind the audience that perpetrators of sexual abuse usually get away with it because they are not noticeable. The film toys with this making you empathize with him up until the truth comes out and you realize what a sick monster he is, and learn that all his early pleasantness was a trap to keep his lifestyle going.)
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Played straight as Hayley, a fourteen year old girl, is torturing Jeff as punishment for supposedly being a 32-year-old male predator (Jeff IS a predator, but the audience is led to believe he is not until the big reveal, so viewers will abide by this trope until the truth comes out), then deconstructed as Hayley crosses the Moral Event Horizon, and then reconstructed as Jeff's deeds get increasingly violent as well as Hayley uncovering more evidence that Jeff is a predator.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mixed with assisted suicide, with weird Mercy Kill overtones. Yeah, it's that kind of thing.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The events we saw more or less happened as we saw them, but it's strongly implied that much of the backstory we've been given has been falsified.
  • Evil Plan: Unusual in that there are two; Jeff and Hayley want to prey on each other but in different manners.
  • Evil Versus Evil: We have a psycho predator and a equally psycho child duking it out.
  • Exploitation Film: Accused of being an exploitation film that is exploiting the Pædo Hunt Hysteria.
  • Film Noir: It could be seen as a twisted neo-Noir, with its dark, bleak subject matter, its claustrophobic setting, and its grim protagonists. Hayley could be viewed as the Anti-Hero, the Femme Fatale and the Private Detective all in one, and Jeff could be seen as an Anti-Hero who is destroyed by becoming entangled with the Femme Fatale.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "She slept with all the wrong people and ended up killing herself."
    • "Four out of five doctors agree that I am actually insane."
    • There is a clear shot of a missing person notice about Donna Mauer on the wall at the cafe.
  • Genre Savvy: While it's not explicit, both seem to know enough about psychological thriller tropes to avoid them. Hayley easily brushes off a Hannibal Lecture, has comebacks for Jeff's other speeches, brushes aside his possible Freudian Excuse and anticipates and reverses the Candlelit Bath moment as mentioned above.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We are never shown anything during the castration scene. There was no castration, she was bluffing.
  • Groin Attack: Easily one of the most horrible groin assaults in cinema. It also didn't happen.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Is just one of the many Breaking Speeches thrown back and forth as power shifts between the two.
  • I Lied: "...Or not."
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: At the final climax of the film, Hayley reveals that she's been toying with Jeff from the very beginning and has known exactly what he is and what he's done from before he even talked to her
  • Iconic Outfit: Hayley's red hoodie, even though she spends most of the film in her black tank top.
  • Insufferable Genius: Hayley is an honor student and you'd better remember it.
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: Hayley's iconic garment is a red hoodie that matches the Little Red Riding Hood vibe of the first part of the movie. This symbolism is the result of a lucky coincidence, however, as the hoodie was actually orange and only turned red in color correction. The film makers swear up and down this was not meant to be symbolic.
  • Little Red Fighting Hood: It's wolf vs. wolf really but one of them wears red.
  • Little Miss Badass: At one point, Hayley takes down a gun-toting Jeff with a roll of cellophane. Cellophane, people! Ellen Page is terrifying.
  • Mind Rape: This is Hayley's main tactic, using psychological warfare to break her targets and drive them to suicide.
  • Minimalist Cast: Aside from the brief appearance of Jeff's ex-girlfriend Janelle, and a few cameos in the beginning, the only characters with any real screentime are Haley, Jeff, and Jeff's neighbour.
  • Nighthawks Shot: The Nighthawks and a T-Shirt. An homage to the painting.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Judy Takuda, Sandra Oh's character, is the only character other than Jeff and Hayley to have any impact - she pops in at one point to ask about Jeff, nearly driving Hayley's carefully calculated plan off the rails.
  • Not So Different: Both main characters are vile, violent people.
  • Pædo Hunt: This Red Riding Hood is hunting for wolves instead of going to grandma's house.
  • The Password Is Always Swordfish: The combination to Jeff's safe consists of a significant date that is also part of his IM nickname and the date of his most (emotionally) important photo shoot, written on the back of his prints of said shoot. Downplayed in that the full date/combination isn't written down so Hayley has to do some educated guesswork and trial and error to discover it.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: What does a child do when she finds a predator and has the means to punish him? Castration of course! It doesn't happen but she still does horrible things to him.
  • Porn Stash: Haley finds one and a shotgun in the process.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: It's been said the story was inspired by gangs of young Japanese girls. They lure in certain kinds of men by playing the part of "innocent-yet-naughty" schoolgirls, and once they have him alone, they beat, rob, and blackmail him.
  • Scenery Porn: The director had previously done music videos. The production looks absolutely sumptuous, even though the production was made on a shoestring- exactly the state of most music videos.
  • Serial Killer:
    • By the end of the film, Hayley has a body count of at least two men. It's strongly implied that these are not her first.
    • Jeff and his friend are heavily implied to have raped and killed the underage girl Hayley mentions. Implied being used loosely, because while Jeff denies it at first, he eventually says that it was all his friend's idea, to which Hayley replies that was the same defense the other man used after she confronted him.
  • To the Pain: Hayley clearly wants to torture him as much as she possibly can and then kill him.
  • Vigilante Man: Hayley hunts pedo. That's her justification for picking the victims she does.
  • Villain Has a Point: If you go with the feeling that Hayley is the villain. She states very clearly that the reasoning that "a girl seems/behaves more like a woman she deserves being assaulted" is no excuse for what Jeff did.
  • Villain Protagonist: Both Jeff and Hayley are vicious people and share the story.
  • Wham Line: "Aaron told me you did it before he killed himself."