Hard Candy (film)

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Hard Candy
HardCandy movieposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Slade
Produced by Rosanne Korenberg
Paul Allen
Written by Brian Nelson
Starring Patrick Wilson
Ellen Page
Sandra Oh
Odessa Rae
Music by Molly Nyman
Harry Escott
Cinematography Jo Willems
Edited by Art Jones
Vulcan Productions
Distributed by Lionsgate
Release dates
  • January 21, 2005 (2005-01-21) (Sundance)
  • April 14, 2006 (2006-04-14) (United States)
Running time 104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $950,000[1]
Box office $7,022,209[2]

Hard Candy is a 2005 vigilante thriller film focusing on the torture of a suspected sexual predator by a 14-year-old vigilante. The film was directed by David Slade, written by Brian Nelson, and stars Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. It was the first feature film for Slade, who previously had worked mostly in music videos.


The film opens with a sexually-charged, flirtatious online chat between two people with the screen names Thonggrrrl14 and Lensman319. Lensman319 is a photographer who admits to "fantasizing" about Thongrrrl14. He calls her a "baby", which she rebuts with her precocious taste for a British author (Zadie Smith). Thonggrrrl14 entices Lensman319 to meet at a café to "hook up." At the cafe, Thonggrrrl14 Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) meets Lensman319 Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson). Hayley makes several references to her age (14-years-old) during flirtatious behavior including subtle sexual innuendos. Hayley succeeds in convincing Jeff to take her to Jeff's house to hear a bootleg Goldfrapp MP3. Once there, we learn that Jeff is 18 years Hayley's senior (32-years-old). Hayley makes them both screwdrivers after hinting that young girls are often warned not to drink something that they did not mix themselves. She cajoles Jeff to consume more alcohol. As they continue to drink, Hayley suggests that Jeff take some photographs of her. She plays loud music and disrobes, dances and poses while Jeff begins to shoot photos before he falls to the floor and passes out.

When Jeff regains consciousness, his wrists and ankles are bound to a chair. Hayley explains that she has been tracking him and that she drugged him because she knows he is a pedophile, child rapist and murderer. Jeff denies these allegations claiming that he had innocent intentions. Hayley searches Jeff's house for evidence of sexually deviant crime. She finds Jeff's gun and eventually she discovers his safe which was secreted under Jeff's decorative rock garden. In the safe, Hayley finds "sick" pictures including one of Donna Mauer, a local girl who had been kidnapped and remains missing (a missing flyer can be seen in the cafe where Hayley and Jeff initially meet). Jeff denies involvement in Mauer's disappearance and succeeds in reaching his gun, but when he (still bound to the chair) attacks Hayley, she renders him unconscious by asphyxiating him with plastic wrap.

When Jeff wakes, he finds himself bound to a steel table with a plastic bag of ice on his genitals. Hayley accuses him with the disappearance of Donna Mauer. Hayley explains that she has implemented and will perform Jeff's castration; she has even set up a video camera so Jeff can watch the procedure. Hayley also reads Jeff an e-mail that she has written in the style of a naive, adolescent female paramour. She threatens to send the message to Janelle, Jeff's ex-girlfriend. In an effort to dissuade Hayley from hurting him, Jeff uses threats, an attempt at a bribe, other negotiations, and in a final, desperate plea for sympathy, he tells her his own story of abuse. Uncharacteristically, Hayley ensures that Jeff's genitals are anesthetized before she proceeds with his sterilization. Following the orchiectomy, Hayley leaves the kitchen, claiming that she wants to take a shower before she leaves his house. Jeff struggles and frees himself. When he reluctantly checks the site of the operation, he realizes he is actually unharmed, and we realize that Hayley has elaborately faked his castration (including utilizing a clamp on his scrotum to create the sensation that something was done, and showing him two testicles, before disposing of them in the garbage disposal). He immediately picks up his cell phone and dials 911 but does not make the call; instead he storms off in a rage to get Hayley in the bathroom where we hear the shower running. Scalpel in hand, he attacks, only to find the shower empty. Hayley counterattacks him from behind and as they struggle, Hayley incapacitates him with a stun gun.

Hayley cleans Jeff's house erasing any evidence that could tie her to the scene. She also types a fake suicide note on Jeff's computer. Hayley poses as LAPD officer "Lieutenant Hayley" – on the phone – to ask Janelle to come to Jeff's house immediately regarding a "delicate situation" that they want to keep "out of the papers." Janelle agrees to meet at Jeff's house as fast as she can drive there. Jeff regains consciousness to find that Hayley has bound his wrists and hoisted him to stand on a chair in his kitchen with a noose around his neck. Hayley makes Jeff an offer: if he commits suicide, she promises to erase the evidence of his crimes, but if he refuses, she promises to expose his secrets. The conversation is interrupted when someone knocks on the front door of Jeff's house. Hayley answers the door, and talks to the neighbor (Sandra Oh). Hayley explains that she is Jeff's niece staying for the weekend. The neighbor has come to Jeff's house to sell him Girl Scout cookies. When Hayley returns, Jeff breaks free from his bindings and pursues Hayley, eventually finding her on the roof of his house, where she has lured him. Hayley has brought her rope from the kitchen and fashioned it into a noose secured to the chimney. Hayley keeps Jeff at bay with his own gun (discovered earlier). Hayley reveals that she has summoned Janelle (Jeff's ex-girlfriend) to Jeff's house and that when Janelle arrives and starts calling for Jeff, Hayley makes her offer again: to erase Jeff's evidence in exchange for his suicide. Hayley also adds that if he does not hang himself with the noose on the roof, that she will pull off her clothes and run into Janelle's arms, crying and screaming.

Jeff finally confesses that he was involved in Donna Mauer's sexual assault and murder. He insists that he only watched (because he wanted to take pictures) while another man actually committed the crime. Jeff promises Hayley that, if she spares his life, he will tell her the other man's name so she can exact her revenge. Hayley confesses that she knows his name, and says "Aaron told me you did it before he killed himself", revealing that she may have dealt with him in a similar fashion.

Janelle arrives, and Hayley once again urges Jeff to hang himself to avoid prosecution and to avoid being a convicted child molester who will be brutalized in prison. While Janelle calls aloud for Jeff, Jeff lets Hayley slide the noose around his neck. After Hayley reiterates her promise to "take care of it all" Jeff takes the last fatal step off his roof with the noose around his neck. As Jeff falls to his death and the rope is seen to go taut, Hayley looks over the side of the house and simply states "or not". Hayley gathers her belongings and escapes through the woods unnoticed. She stops for a moment to sit and the scene cuts with Hayley walking down the road in her red hoodie.


  • Patrick Wilson as Jeff Kohlver
  • Ellen Page as Hayley Stark
  • Sandra Oh as Judy Tokuda
  • Odessa Rae (credited as Jennifer Holmes) as Janelle Rogers
  • Erin Kraft as Donna Mauer in photos
  • Gabe Kerr as Nighthawks Clerk
  • Cori Bright as girl in Nighthawks


The idea for Hard Candy came from a news story on 20/20 producer David W. Higgins saw about young Japanese girls who would lure older businessmen to a location with the promise of meaningful conversation and would assault and mug the men with a gang of other girls once the men arrived.[1] This led him to wonder, "What if the person you expect to be the predator is not who you expect it to be? What if it's the other person?"[1] He then hired writer Brian Nelson to flesh out the idea.[1] Due to the controversial nature of the work, the budget was kept under $1 million so that the production company would not ask to change anything.[1] Sandra Oh agreed to do the film due to her desire to work with fellow Canadian actress Ellen Page, with whom she had appeared in Wilby Wonderful, although not in the same scenes in that film.[3]

Very little dubbing was used in the film, with only a couple of lines modified in post-production. Only nine minutes of music are present in the film, with ambient sounds, such as heavy breathing, making up most of the soundtrack. The film was shot in 18 days, largely in sequence, and mostly on a soundstage. Hayley wears a red hooded sweatshirt that is often seen as an allusion to Little Red Riding Hood.[1] However, this was a serendipitous wardrobe choice by the creative team that was not realized until later on.[1] Foreign marketing for the film made great use of this allusion. For example, a tagline on the Japanese site for the film reads: "Red Hood traps the Wolf in his own game."[4]

Jean-Clement Sorret was the digital colorist for the film, and is one of the few instances where a colorist received a spot in the opening credits.[5] The film contains many coloring effects and "density shifts" of lighting to reflect the moods of the characters. For example, when Hayley gets angry, the colors would be edited to be of lower frequency.[1] One effect used which, as far as the director is aware of, had not been done in cinema before, was to brighten the lighting in filming and correct everything down in post-production.[1] This allowed for facial details to be visible even while having a darkened atmosphere.[1] According to the DVD extras, the process required a custom-built digital intermediate to be made and proved to be extremely difficult, with corrections having to be made frame-by-frame in some instances. This technique, known as ETTR, is a standard procedure in digital photography and cinematography to minimize the amount of noise in shadows and midtones. Early working titles of the script were Vendetta and Snip Snip.[5] The producer wanted a title with a "sugar and spice combination and a mixture of harsh roughness, innocence, and vulnerability", and settled on the title Hard Candy.[5]


The film premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival with a midnight screening. The Dolby Surround System failed before the screening and the audience was kept out until it was fixed.[1] The New York Times Magazine later said of Page's performance, "a star was born".[6]

Hard Candy was screened at the Florida Film Festival on April 1, 2006.[7]

Hard Candy opened in 2 theaters in Los Angeles and New York City on April 14, 2006[1] in a limited release. During its opening weekend, the film grossed $58,049 averaging $29,704 per theater, the highest per-screen average in the top 50.[1] It ended its run with $1,024,640 at the North American box office, and a further $5,997,569 internationally for a total of $7,022,209.[2]

The American DVD was released on September 19, 2006 with two commentary tracks, an hour's worth of making-of featurettes, six deleted and extended scenes, the script and director's notebook, and trailers for Hard Candy and other Lionsgate films. The Blu-ray release by Lionsgate Home Entertainment was scheduled for October 5, 2010.[8]


The film critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gave a 68% positive rating based on 138 reviews with an average rating of 6.4 out of 10. The consensus was "Disturbing, controversial, but entirely engrossing, Hard Candy is well written with strong lead performances, especially that of newcomer Ellen Page. A movie that stays with the viewer long after leaving the theater."[9] The film has a score of 58 out of 100 on metacritic based on 30 reviews. Caroline Westbrook at Empire Magazine called it "[a] cracking little thriller". David Edwards at the Daily Mirror praised it as a "smart, challenging and timely look at the world of internet grooming". Todd McCarthy at Variety praised the "spectacular performance by teenage thesp Ellen Page".

Critics applauded Page's performance; USA Today praised her for "remain[ing] consistently convincing" to her role which is both "powerful and chilling... She manages to be both cruelly callous and likable, and hers is one of the most complex, disturbing and haunting performances of the year."[10] Lynn Hirschberg of The New York Times Magazine said that Page "managed to be adorable and persuasive while wielding a large knife."[6] The New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis recognized the film's debt to "Ariel Dorfman and Neil LaBute, among others," but did not care for the torture theme "in the age of Abu Ghraib."[11]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3 and a half stars out of four and wrote that "There is undeniable fascination in the situation as it unfolds. It is an effective film. Although I may be concerned about how some audience members may react to it, I cannot penalize it on the basis of my speculations about their private feelings. Seen as a film, seen as acting and direction, seen as just exactly how it unfolds on the screen, "Hard Candy" is impressive and effective. As for what else it may be, each audience member will have to decide."[12]

Steve Persall wrote in the Tampa Bay Times that he watched the film in a crowded French Quarter dive bar on a Saturday night. "Until the shocking end, there's nothing less than rapt attention to this sordid thriller about an online predator (Wilson) and his not-so-innocent prey (Ellen Page). On a party night in New Orleans? That's how creepy-good this movie is."[13]

Steve Schneider praised its "grabber of a sicko setup... It's a memorably tense pas de deux, and if the movie doesn't pay off on it properly, fault a script that ventures further and further into psychological-thriller claptrap, leaving the two stars to rely on their hefty talents to keep it at all believable. Hayley, we learn, is nowhere near the naïve young flower to whom we've been introduced; unfortunately, much of what she knows seems to have been learned from Extremities. As she begins to assert herself, Hard Candy enters a miasma of revelation and revenge one that might have worked better on the stage than the screen, where the story's claustrophobia and increasingly unwieldy plot twists take a major toll. Still, what an intro."[7]


The film won three awards at the Sitges Film Festival, 2005: Slade won the Audience award for Best Feature Film and the Best Film award, and Brian Nelson, the writer, won the award for Best Screenplay. Page won the Best Actress award from the Austin Film Critics Association.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

The German Neue Deutsche Härte band Oomph! based the video for their song "Beim ersten Mal tut's immer weh" (the first time always hurts) on the film, as did American metalcore band Beneath the Sky for their song "Terror Starts at Home".

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Making Hard Candy," DVD featurette
  2. ^ a b "Hard Candy". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  3. ^ Oh, Sandra (December 16, 2007). "On Ellen Page". sandraohnews.com. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  4. ^ Original Japanese text:赤ずきんが仕掛けるオオカミへのゲーム
    "Hard Candy". 
  5. ^ a b c DVD audio commentary with director David Slate and writer Brian Nelson
  6. ^ a b Hirschberg, Lynn (February 10, 2008). "Breaking Through". The New York Times Magazine. p. 51(L). Retrieved July 9, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Schneider, Steve (March 30, 2006). "CLOSING FRAMES - What to watch for in the final weekend of the Florida Film Festival". Orlando Weekly. Retrieved July 9, 2013. 
  8. ^ Lionsgate Drops a Massive Load of Horror Blu-rays in October - Blair Witch and More!
  9. ^ "Hard Candy". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  10. ^ Puig, Claudia (December 22, 2006). "Ellen: Manipulates Hard Candy to great effect". USA Today. Retrieved September 22, 2013. 
  11. ^ Dargis, Manohla (April 14, 2006). "In 'Hard Candy,' an Internet Lolita Is Not as Innocent as She Looks". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 27, 2006). "Hard Candy Movie Review & Film Summary (2006)". rogerebert.com. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  13. ^ Persall, Steve (July 1, 2013). "As he turns 40, a look at Patrick Wilson's best performances". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved July 9, 2013. 
  14. ^ "www.austinfilmcritics.com". [dead link]

External links[edit]