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.
  • Bait-and-Switch Accusation: While Hayley is torturing Jeff at his house, the Nosy Neighbor rings at the door to bring cookies. Hayley answers the door where she explains that she is Jeff's niece and that the disturbing sounds from the inside are caused by him suffering from food poisoning. The neighbor seems to buy the story but then puts on a serious face:
    Neighbor: Can I ask you something? I might be a little out of line here. (Hayley tenses up) Do you babysit?
  • Bifauxnen: Hayley looks more like a cute little boy than a Fille Fatale.
  • The Big Bad Wolf: This film is one particularly disturbing modern version of Little Red Riding Hood, with Haley in the role of Little Red Riding Hood as well as the woodsman. Jeff fills the role of the Big Bad Wolf, luring Haley over to his place under false pretenses and then starts trying to get her drunk. It goes downhill from there, but maybe not exactly in the way Jeff had planned...
  • Binge Montage: The camera effects when Jeff feels the sedative kicking in.
  • Bottle Episode: The film has only two main characters and is set almost entirely in the house of the male lead.
  • Brass Balls: Hayley mentions that Jeff's balls can't be brass because the blender worked just fine on the.
  • Break Them by Talking: Subverted. Jeff does this on Hayley and it seems to work as she gets all teared up until she starts laughing in his face, revealing that her breakdown was faked.
  • 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.
  • Children Are Innocent: This film starts out with this trope played straight by the cute, innocent protagonist. Then 20 minutes into the movie it suddenly does a 180-turn and averts it.
  • Covers Always Lie: Ellen Page only wears that red hoodie in the final scene.
  • Cute and Psycho: Hayley looks like a sweet teenager on the outside but her inside is pitch black.
  • 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.
  • Deceptively Silly Title: Woe betide you if you mistake Hard Candy for a film about confectionery.
  • 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 kept in the dark 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: Hayley isn't actually a murderer, since Jeff and Aaron both killed themselves after long periods of psychological and physical torture.
  • 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.
  • Fade to Black: Many scenes simply fade out to black.
  • 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."
    • "When you work as a photographer you find out real quick, people's faces lie."
    • There is a clear shot of a missing person notice about Donna Mauer on the wall at the cafe.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Applies to Jeff's Character Development.
    • Denial: After he's drugged and tied in the chair, most of what he says is pure denial. He makes excuses and comes up with reasons for his behavior, all lies, like why he didn't talk to the women in the chat room as soon as he found out they were older than Hayley. He says, "I'm a decent guy, ask anyone." Can't get much more textbook than that when it comes to denial.
    • Anger: We see flashes of this throughout, but very soon after the line quoted above, Hayley starts really tearing into him and his anger rises to the surface. Cut to scene in bedroom, and we see, while he is still trying to convince her that she's wrong, his anger is barely contained now, his denials are not calm and reasonable any longer, but screamed at her. From that point on, anger tinges everything. Hayley even mocks him, saying, "A little angry, are we?"
    • Bargaining: This one should be obvious. He's tied to a table. She tells him she's going to castrate him. He begs. He pleads. He promises he'll turn himself in, he'll do anything she wants. Actually, even before he knows what she's planning, he tells her to call the cops, he'll go to jail.
    • Depression: This is a tough one, because it's hard to keep the action moving, but while Hayley is "castrating" Jeff, he lies there, dormant, silent. The fight has gone out of him. When she asks him if he wants some souvenirs, holding his "testicles" in front of him, he doesn't respond. He cries. But, life goes on and he's not down for the count. Denial and anger return, especially anger.
    • Acceptance: "You're right. You're right, Hayley. Thank you. Thank you. This is me. This is who I am. Thank you. Thank you for helping me see it."
  • Freudian Excuse: Jeff attempts to justify his tendencies by recounting a traumatic childhood event of his.
  • 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 Deadly 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.
  • Heal It with Booze: Hayley uses Jeff's vodka to sterilize his balls before the surgery.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Apparently, Hayley has turned into a self-righteous punisher of child molesters.
  • The Hunter Becomes The Hunted: Jeff was preying on Hayley, until she turns the tables and gets back at him in cruel ways.
  • 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.
  • The Jail Bait Wait: Discussed by Jeff as he hits on allegedly 14 year old Hayley.
    'Jeff: I'm gonna have to wait four years for you.
  • Ironic Echo: Hayley's Sarcastic Confession early on about four out of five doctors agreeing on her insanity is repeated by her later while Jeff is suffering the consequences of not believing her first time around.
  • Karma Houdini: Hayley faced no consequence for her torturing and multiple assisted suicides before the credits roll.
  • Knight Templar: Hayley believes to be on a righteous while murderous crusade, lashing out because of her anger at uncaught pedophiles. And she gives some preachy Hannibal Lectures along the way.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Ultimately, it's about a murderous pedophile being punished by a teenage girl who's clearly a sociopath.
  • 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 Miss Badass: At one point, Hayley takes down a gun-toting Jeff with a roll of cellophane. Cellophane, people! Ellen Page is terrifying.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Hayley is pretty snarky towards Jeff once her true face is revealed.
  • Little Red Fighting Hood: It's wolf vs. wolf really but one of them wears red.
  • 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 neighbor.
  • Nature Versus Nurture: Discussed by Hayley.
    Jeff: Ah, so you and your mom are both wacked?
    Hayley: I dunno. There's that whole nature versus nurture question, isn't it? Was I born a cute, vindictive, little bitch or... did society make me that way? I go back and forth on that...
  • 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.
  • Noose Catch: Hayley makes Jeff jump from the rooftop of his house with a noose around his neck tied to the chimney.
  • Not a Game: "Jeff, playtime is over. Now it's time to wake up."
  • Not So Different: Both main characters are vile, violent people.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: On Hayley's part. Jeff is trying to manipulate her into making the first move so that he can have some plausible deniability if necessary. She knows the entire time what he's doing and she plays dumb pretending to fall into his trap.
  • Pædo Hunt: This Red Riding Hood is hunting for wolves instead of going to grandma's house.
  • Pariah Prisoner: Hayley call on this trope when telling Jeff that terrible things are awaiting him in prison.
  • 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.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Hayley jokingly says early on that "Four out of five doctors agree that I am actually insane." Later, she repeats it, not at all jokingly.
  • 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.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Jeff learns the hard way that the rules about never letting someone else mix your drink apply both ways when his would-be victim turns the tables and drugs him this way.
  • So Was X: Inverted. When Jeff points out that being an official child molester would ruin his career and life, Hayley snarks back that it didn't seem to have harmed Roman Polanski's life.
  • To the Pain: Hayley clearly wants to torture him as much as she possibly can and then kill him.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Hayley big time. She incapacitates, tortures, and drives a pedophile to suicide. She's fourteen years old...allegedly.note 
  • The Unreveal: We don't get a view of Jeff hanging from the roof.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: Who killed the girl?
  • Vigilante Man: Hayley broke many laws in pursuit of her idea of justice. There was no court, no evidence. Vigilante at large.
  • 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."
  • You're Insane!: Jeff's "You're Insane!" upon which Hayley echoes ironically "Which I told you when we first met, remember? Four out of five doctors agree."