Hard Candy’s creative team talks about its controversial take on pedophilia and revenge
Brian Nelson, Hard Candy scribe and beard aficionado, knew marketing his film would be damn-near impossible considering the subject matter: A 14-year-old girl enacts sadistic vengeance on a suspected pedophile for nearly all of its 99 minutes, going so far as to ice up the guy’s nuts for a little creative castration. It’s not exactly family viewing, that’s for sure.
|Don't be fooled by the sweet, innocent face: Ellen Page is looking to teach Patrick Wilson a hard lesson in Hard Candy.|
“There was an article on Lions Gate in Variety a couple months ago where they were listing the upcoming releases and they had a little niche, a little label for each, and I was wondering, ‘God, what are they going to call our film?’” Nelson says. “They referred to it as ‘specialty thriller.’”
“Specialty thriller?” Hard Candy’s director David Slade (also a fan of the beard) repeats from beside Nelson. The two are relaxing on a couch in an Austin hotel room.
“I thought, that’s not actually so bad,” Nelson says. “I like being a specialty thriller because I don’t know what those are.”
Slade agrees, nodding. “That’s nice.”
Hard Candy is hard to swallow. It begins with a barely teenage nymphette named Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) showing up at a local coffee shop to meet a guy with whom she’s been chatting online and who she knows is significantly older than her. Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) is the bespectacled photographer enamored with Hayley and it’s not long before she’s tricked the all-too-willing Kohlver into thinking it’s his idea to have her come back to his place. They flirt, she plays the part of the coquettish Lolita curious about her sexuality, he agrees to take her photograph — and then Kohlver collapses.
When Kohlver wakes up, he realizes Hayley — sweet, doe-eyed Hayley — drugged his mixed drink and, oh yeah, he’s tied into a chair. And that’s when the real film begins: Torture, the sort most people would fantasize about inflicting on pedophiles. The only problem is, whoever said Kohlver was a pedophile? Hayley seems convinced he is, sure, but the filmmakers deftly avoid concrete answers. After all, maybe the dude just likes kiddie porn. Maybe he just wanted some photos of a flat-chested 14-year-old to pleasure himself to. Is that enough to get someone castrated? Even for the guilty, is such torture ever justified, or will it, as Kohlver suggests to Hayley, corrupt the torturer, too? This is a movie that ultimately makes you question your own capacity for inhuman behavior, even in the name of justice (or is that vengeance?).
“It took Lions Gate, God, nine months or something before they showed us the first bit of marketing,” Slade says. “Clearly, they had a lot of stuff to deal with.”
“It is a hard film to categorize,” Nelson adds. “When the script was first finished, the producer David Higgins and I sent it to a couple people we knew at studios. They were just aghast — in a good way. But still, they’d say, ‘Wow, this is great. We could never do this here.’ We really dreaded that by the time we had finished going through the studio development mill it would be a very different film. It would be a film where Holly Hunter went undercover posing online as a 14-year-old.”
“Definitely someone over 18,” Slade insists.
“The fact that our character Hayley looks as young as she does was unsettling for some people,” Nelson continues. “The themes of this film give a lot of people pause. People literally haul out of their seats.” Page, the actress behind Hayley, was actually 17 at the time of filming and is a revelation onscreen; innocent at moments, terribly immature at others, she also manages to convey a sinister maturity and (fanatically righteous) genius that is frightening and heartbreaking.
“It was a long, hard search,” Nelson admits. “Finding the balance of somebody who would have the vulnerability so you would really be afraid for them, but at the same time the strength that they could really survive this. The whole film rested on hers and Patrick’s shoulders and we could not get tired of them. We needed to be constantly surprised by them.” Slade was more concerned about Page’s ability to survive the actual filmmaking process. “I had to find someone who could go through this process without coming out damaged and could carry on with their lives,” he says. “Ellen just had this inner strength that suggested the whole process of making the film would not leave an indentation on her. I was very conscious of that.
“The actors, God bless them,” he adds. “Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson who went so far beyond the call of duty in terms of performances.”
“Amen,” Nelson agrees.