'Candy' Tackles 'Hard' Topics
Thriller offers no heroes or villains, only questions
On its surface, "Hard Candy" is an intimate chamber piece, a physical and intellectual game of cat-and-mouse between an unsavory photographer (Patrick Wilson) and the teenage girl (Ellen Page) he picks up on the Internet. The unsavory kernel of a plot came from producer David Higgins, who told screenwriter Brian Nelson the apparently true story of Japanese girls who would lure in deviants off the Internet, arrange meetings and then mug them.
"David pitched the core idea of this to me and as unsettling as it was -- I checked with my wife and said, 'Do you want to stay married to me if I write this?' -- it was something that I just felt I had to write," Nelson says.
Like a dark version of Little Red Riding Hood, "Hard Candy" finds the most innocent seeming victim turning on her attacker in a manner that may disturb audiences who go to the movie looking for easily identifiable good guys and bad guys.
"I think there are two antagonists," says Wilson. "I don't think there's a protagonist in the film. There are two villains."
Page is a bit more charitable to her resourceful character, a young lady whose motivations remain mysterious throughout the film.
"I think she's an extremely passionate, intelligent young woman," the Canadian actress notes. "So I actually found it kind of inspiring in a way. And in a symbolic sense perhaps. But no, I wouldn't think she's crazy or evil. I think she sees something wrong with society. She's irritated that people are ignoring it and she's going to do something about it."
And for his part, Wilson at least hopes that he gave his character sufficient shading to give theatergoers pause.
"I think the most surprising thing for people is when people go, 'You know, I found myself really being sympathetic toward you and I didn't like myself for that,' or 'It was really strange for me to care,'" Wilson observes. "And that's great. That was kind of the goal."
That was also the goal of British filmmaker David Slade, a commercial veteran making his feature debut.
"When I read the script, one of the things that drove me, was that it really questioned my values," Slade says. "That was one of the things that just drove me to want to make this thing that I didn't think was ever going to get made."
The Lionsgate release already screened at Sundance, so the "Hard Candy" players know that some people are reacting fairly passionately.
Page recalls, "One woman came up to me and was like, 'You're totally sadistic.' And I was like, 'A, fiction... B, I disagree with you' and then I did the whole stupid actor thing of like 'She's not sadistic.' There's no point in doing that with this woman. But yeah, you get really angry people."
The anger can spread starting Friday (April 14), when "Hard Candy" goes into limited release.