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Film / Hard Candy

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Is she trapped... or is she bait?

"Strangers shouldn't talk to little girls."

A 2005 Psychological Thriller/Exploitation Film written by Brian Nelson and directed by David Slade, starring Patrick Wilson as a 32-year old photographer named Jeff Kohlver and Elliot Page note  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.

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.
    • Jeff as well. On the surface, he's handsome, charming, well-read, witty, has a successful and glamorous career and lives in a nice house. Beneath it though lies something much darker.
  • Advertised Extra: Initially. Sandra Oh got prominent billing alongside the two leads, despite having a cameo. Though this is partly due to the fact that Jeff and Hayley are the only two characters for the majority of the film - and Judy Tokuda is simply the one with the next amount of prominence.
  • 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.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Jeff seems to make a convincing argument for why he has so many pictures of scantily-clad barely legal (and possibly not even that) girls in his house. He's an artist and wants to display what he's proud of. He points out he's done a lot more other work, even telling Hayley where to go look for it. Hayley's response is that if he's so proud of his other work, why are pictures hanging on the walls only of the girls? He's got no good answer for that.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Hayley says, "Four out of five doctors agree that I am actually insane." If taken at face value,note  insanity is a legal concept, not a psychiatric one. Presumably what she meant (assuming she's telling the truth at all) is that they diagnosed her as being seriously mentally ill. But most mentally ill people would not qualify as insane under the legal definition (which was made even narrower after the controversial decision declaring John Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity in the early 1980s). For one thing, it usually requires at minimum a significant detachment from reality, a trait Hayley does not appear to possess.
  • 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: Ironically enough, considering certain revelations Elliot Page would come to in the future, 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.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Jeff, even accounting for the fact that he tried to hook up with an underage girl, comes across as otherwise charming and is played by the naturally very likable and charismatic Patrick Wilson. It gradually becomes clear how dangerous he really is.
  • Bottle Episode: The film has only two main characters and is set almost entirely in the house of the male lead. Also in keeping with the trope, it was made on a budget of $1 million.
  • Brass Balls: Hayley mentions that Jeff's balls can't be brass because the blender worked just fine on them.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Literally, the gun that Hayley finds while searching for Jeff's Porn Stash.
    • The "Missing: Donna Mauer" poster at Nighthawks.
    • Jeff's IM name, which helps Hayley to figure out the safe combination.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Janelle. There's mention of her made throughout, but Hayley summons her to the house in the penultimate scene to pressure Jeff into committing suicide.
  • Chekhovs MIA: There is a clear shot of a missing person notice about Donna Mauer on the wall at the cafe. Jeff and/or Aaron is revealed to have killed her.
  • 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: Elliot 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-Meaning Title: "Hard Candy" has two meanings here. It's an obvious reference to sweets used to lure away little kids as well as a comment on the surprising toughness of the sweet-looking female protagonist.
  • 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 subverted as Hayley crosses the Moral Event Horizon. And then it's justified (at least as far as this story pertains) as Hayley finds more evidence of Jeff's crimes.
  • Driven to Suicide: Hayley isn't actually a murderer, since Jeff and Aaron both killed themselves after long periods of psychological and physical torture.
  • Driving Question: Who killed Donna? We never really find out.
  • Evil Plan: Unusual in that there are two; Jeff and Hayley want to hurt each other but in different manners.
  • Exploitation Film: Accused of being an exploitation film that is exploiting the Pædo Hunt Hysteria.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Hayley and Jeff are both physically attractive and seriously messed up underneath.
  • Fade to Black: Many scenes simply fade out to black.
  • Fairytale Motifs: Red Riding Hood, a fact emphasized by the film's marketing campaign as seen above. The film looks to be a classic example of the story, Hayley the unsuspecting prey being seduced by Jeff as the wolf. Then it twists around the set-up and makes Jeff the prey for Hayley, establishing both as dangerous.
  • 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.
  • Fille Fatale: Invoked. Jeff thinks Hayley is this, she totally plays up to the archetype, and she's going to punish him for it.
  • 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."
  • The First Cut Is the Deepest: Despite being a pedophile and probably a murderer, Hayley figures out that Jeff isn't over his first girlfriend Janelle, which is how she manipulates him into committing suicide.
  • 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. He also repeatedly encourages Hayley to share her own.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Hayley is a firm believer that it isn't, outright mocking Jeff for thinking she'll have pity on him because of his. She also rejects any attempt to talk about her own, and doesn't confirm if she has one.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We are never shown anything during the castration scene. There was no castration, she was bluffing.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Both of the main characters are quite awful, with one being a budding serial killer and the other being a pedophile, but which one is technically worse is also a subject of debate for the audience. While Hayley is clearly deranged, she's also explicitly going after a man who she believes to be a sexual predator who killed a teenage girl, and Jeff doesn't exactly help his case by trying to get (who he believes to be) a fourteen year old girl drunk and trying to groom her, and the stash of photos under the rug really doesn't help, either. However, on the flip side, Hayley's torture of him is unnecessarily cruel and brutal, especially since, in Real Life, torture is horribly ineffective at getting reliable confessions out of people, meaning that anything Jeff could say to validate Hayley's opinion of him could easily be a False Confession and it's heavily implied that Hayley is doing it just for her own enjoyment rather than any righteous cause. Whether Hayley is right that Jeff killed Donna is never explicitly confirmed, so she very easily could be wrong about her hunch and is actually torturing someone who had no hand in it. The moral dilemma usually boils down to whether Hayley is justified in her plans or is an opportunistic little monster, and whether Jeff, regardless of his crimes, is deserving of the torture or not.
  • 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: Though it's debatable how much Hayley wasn't already a monster herself and just happened to choose acceptable targets.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Jailbait Wait: Discussed by Jeff as he hits on allegedly 14-year old Hayley.
    Jeff: I'm gonna have to wait four years for you.
  • Jitter Cam: Used occasionally, such as when Hayley is hunting for Jeff's Porn Stash.
  • Karma Houdini: Hayley faced no consequence for her torturing and multiple assisted suicides before the credits roll.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Implied. Jeff has been preying upon underage girls and may have raped and murdered one, or at least watched his friend do it. Hayley comes along and punishes him.
  • Knight Templar: Hayley believes herself to be on a righteous crusade of catching uncaught pedophiles. It's implied that the self-aggrandising rhetoric is just that, words.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Ultimately, it's about a murderous pedophile being punished by a teenage girl he tried to take advantage of, who is clearly a sociopath.
  • Little Miss Badass: At one point, Hayley takes down a gun-toting Jeff with a roll of cellophane. Elliot 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.
    • This symbolism is the result of a lucky coincidence, however, as the iconic hoodie was actually orange and only turned red in color correction. The filmmakers swear up and down this was not meant to be symbolic.
  • 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.
  • Morton's Fork: Several times.
    • When Jeff escapes, he can call the cops and explain what happened, which would have saved his life. But Hayley had apparently found child pornography in his house, and there's the question of what happened to Donna Hauer.
    • On the rooftop, Jeff can jump to his death and Hayley could destroy all the evidence that pointed to him, or he could have stayed alive and got caught, gone to prison, and had his reputation ruined. Even if we assume Hayley doesn't, as she implied, destroy the evidence after Jeff's suicide, he would've still gone to prison.
  • Mugging the Monster: The film is essentially built around a variation of this trope: a predator looking for an easy score finds that he was in fact the prey the entire time.
  • 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. In homage to the painting.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Judy Tokuda, 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-Well-Intentioned Extremist: It's heavily implied that Hayley's actions are motivated more by sadism than any sense of justice and she is simply choosing people she deems to be acceptable targets.
  • Not the First Victim: Two ways:
    • We see grown man Jeff picking up fourteen-year-old Hayley online after they meet at a coffee shop. At a minimum, he's done this before since he had some role in Donna's death. It is heavily implied that he has preyed on and raped multiple girls, if not actually murdered them.
    • Hayley torments Jeff, ties him up, pretends to cut(s) off his genitalia, and ultimately forces him to commit suicide. She reveals that she has also done this to Aaron, who is either Donna's killer or Jeff's accomplice in killing her, just before. It's unknown whether she has other "victims."
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Both Jeff and Haley are doing this to each other at the beginning. Jeff is trying to manipulate her into making the first move so that he can have some Plausible Deniability if necessary, while pretending to act concerned of doing anything looking questionable, such as taking her to his house. She knows the entire time that he's playing dumb and she reciprocates his behavior, pretending to fall into his trap so she can unleash her plan.
  • "Oh, Crap!" Fakeout: Jeff tries to Break Them by Talking and it seems to work as Hayley gets all teared up until she starts laughing in his face, revealing that her Villainous Breakdown was faked.
  • Pædo Hunt: This Red Riding Hood is hunting for wolves instead of going to grandma's house.
  • Pariah Prisoner: Hayley calls 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.
  • Phallic Weapon and Visual Innuendo: In a very clear case of Visual Innuendo, when Jeff arms himself with the knife and he's raging at/about Hayley, he begins stabbing the photograph of one of his models/victims. Around her crotch area.
  • Porn Stash: Hayley finds one and a shotgun in the process.
  • Red Is Violent:
    • Hayley's Iconic Outfit, especially her red leggings and red hoodie.
    • Jeff's walls in his house are also painted red.
  • Red Riding Hood Replica: Hayley Stark poses as an innocent girl in an orange hoodie to lure a sexual predator so she can inflict vigilante justice on him.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • Did Jeff kill Donna? This is a little more complicated than it first appears, too - it's left wholly ambiguous whether it was a completely False Confession, or whether he didn't kill her, he just watched as his friend did.
    • Did Hayley destroy the evidence? It's implied that she doesn't, but nothing is ever seen that confirms it one way or the other.
  • 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.
  • Sleazy Photoshoot: Jeff is an actual photographer but it's suggested that he uses these and You Would Make a Great Model to get his young victims to trust him. It's also heavily suggested at the end that he photographs his victims, as well as the act itself. There are many photographs on the walls of young women.
  • 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 Polański's life.
  • Speech-Centric Work: Most of the film is just the two characters arguing with one another.
  • Sweets of Temptation: The title of the film alludes to the reveal that the protagonist is an underaged girl who lures sexual predators so she can inflict vigilante justice on them. Her victim is a pedophile who apparently raped and murdered a little girl.
  • 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.
  • Vigilante Man: Hayley broke many laws in pursuit of her idea of justice. There was no court, no evidence. Vigilante at large.
  • Villain Protagonist: Both Jeff and Hayley are vicious people and the movie constantly flips between focusing on one or the other.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Aaron told me you did it before he killed himself."
    • "Or not."
  • Would Hurt a Child: Jeff and his friend Aaron apparently raped and killed a little girl.
  • 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."
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Jeff tells Hayley this when she has a gun on him in the climax. She doesn't, but only because the gun was only ever an intimidation tactic to get him to commit "suicide".