25 July, 2006

Hard Candy

Hard Candy poster

In Hard Candy, a girl meets someone she met online, but she's 14 and he's a suspected paedophile. This film has added poignancy as the day after I saw it, I found out a friend has been sacked for spending most of his work time accessing child pornography.

Of course certain things fell into place with my ex-friend like the penchant for the more misogynist Italian horror and the constant job-hopping. He was allowed to quietly leave a few jobs rather than be prosecuted for his online and offline behaviour. Unbelievably another cover-up was suggested this latest time as well but after further discussion the police were notified.

In terms of writing about big issues that concern us then Brian Nelson has done just that in Hard Candy. The film was released just as the government revisits a Megan's Law for the UK where the neighbourhood has to be informed when a paedophile moves nearby. The vast majority of child sexual abuse happens within the family (about 80%) but it's stranger danger that gets everyone riled up. A Megan's Law will drive some paedophiles underground and, for those who don't hide, they are more likely to be assaulted and killed, as happened recently in the US.

Intellectually I know that vigilantism is wrong but there is a reactionary element in me that thinks child sex offenders do deserve to die. A couple of days after hearing about my friend’s imminent arrest, I saw him in Tesco. It was unexpected and just a hi and bye but, if I had the presence of mind, would I have landed him one? Stella Papamichael's ludicrous 4 stars for Hard Candy led me to believe the film would explore that dilemma. Not a bit of it.

This review contains serious spoilers. Please don't read on if you intend to see it.

Haley & Jeff

The screenwriter created a rod for his own back in that he clearly had a rule which was to keep the girl’s moral high ground, she can’t mutilate and she can’t kill. So you have the first half where she pretends to mutilate and the second half where she has to, unconvincingly, convince the nonce to kill himself.

A two-hander thriller with limited locations is very difficult to do as you need to avoid contrivances and characters doing things out of character to keep the plot ‘exciting’. If, like Nelson, you don't bother to avoid doing that then it's a piece of piss.

Hard Candy starts off well but in order to avoid revealing that Jeff is a paedo too early, Nelson makes him very reluctant to let Haley go round to his house. And when she eventually persuades him to let her, he asks her to phone relatives so they know where she is and who’s she’s with. There's nothing wrong with giving false information to trick the audience but not at the expense of truthful characterisation.

We later find out that Jeff is a violent murdering paedophile but surely violent murdering paedophiles who go to the trouble of grooming girls for weeks and arranging meetings would do all they can to persuade them to go back to their house and do all they can to avoid the girl's relatives finding out about it? This attempt at mystery - “is he a baddie or not?” - is pointless as the reviews and trailer will give that much away anyway.

You don’t have to be psychic to guess that Nelson doesn’t outline and doesn’t re-write. OK, fair enough, don’t outline if you don't want to but at least go back and rewrite stuff to make it consistent and ensure it makes sense.

Nelson went the easy way out as the story's not really about a suspected nonce but a suspected murderer - there's no real ambiguity there. Everyone in the audience is pretty much going to be against murderers but thousands of people search for child porn each day in the UK and don’t see anything wrong with it as they are not doing the actual abusing themselves. They need to be challenged. The reactionary "hang nonces" element in the rest of us needs to be challenged as well.

Haley drugging Jeff, tying him up and preparing to castrate him simply because he might be a paedophile, works very well as a sequence. Is it morally right for Haley to castrate someone? For grooming and having child porn? As a viewer I'm forced to think about my own beliefs and the film gets interesting.

However, by the end it's revealed that Haley knew from before the film starts that Jeff and his friend had raped and killed her missing friend because she has already dealt with Jeff's friend. This 14 year old girl has managed to do what all the police staff power and resources had been unable to do: find out what happened to the missing girl and find her killers. I bet her SATs are really good.

The simple story of a girl allowing herself to be groomed by a nonce so she can castrate him to stop him doing it again is brilliant. The complicated story that Hard Candy turns out to be is just plain stupid whichever way you look at it.

Bizarrely, Haley only pretends to castrate Jeff, going to the trouble of playing a castration video and pretending it’s a live feed. For half the movie she says she's castrating him because death is too good for him. For the second half she thinks death is just fine for him.

Haley's hold on Jeff is that if the woman he loved ever found out he was a nonce he couldn't live with himself and eventually that's why he kills himself. He killed himself over an ex-girlfriend he hadn't spoken to in years. An adult ex-girlfriend.

Jeff tried everything to escape before he was being 'castrated' but conveniently he manages to escape easily afterwards - where he discovers his tackle is, in fact, intact. Does he then destroy his child porn and any link to the murdered missing girl and thereby leaving Haley with no power over him whatsoever at all? No. He takes a knife and goes after Haley to kill her.

After a tedious chase through the house, they end up on the roof where Haley was expecting them to end up and has already prepared a rope for him to hang himself. She reminds him that she’s phoned his ex-girlfriend and she’s on her way and that she'll tell her he's a nonce. Not even then does Jeff say, “hang on a minute, all I have to do is go back down and destroy the evidence and I'm sweet".

I think it's fine to have twists and revelations but you also have to go back and make it consistent with what we already know. If Haley knows that this guy raped and killed her friend then why is she bothering to pretend to castrate him? Why is she trying to persuade him to kill himself ?

In a psychological thriller especially it's pretty crucial to have psychological truth. Actions for their own sake are pointless, the characters have to have motivation for the things they do. Simply ask 'If I was this character in this situation, what would I do?".

In looking for links to add to this blog, I've just read an interview where the first time British director says "the first draft of the script is pretty much what we shot" which confirms my earlier suspicions.

OK, that review's maybe a bit negative. Let me think of something positive to say. Nelson writes OK dialogue which is sometimes amusing.

As for my ex-friend, I've decided that if I see him again, I won't take any vigilante action. And so if something does happen to him - and I'm not saying it will - it definitely won't be me that did it.

Watch the first 8 minutes

Brian Nelson Moviehole interview

Brian Nelson Moviefreak interview

Brian Nelson YourMovies interview


Dom Carver said...

If it was me I would tell Mr. Ex Friend when I saw him next that he's sick and that I find what he does disgusting. If he didn't listen to that then (and only then) would I kick him in the nuts until he did.

As for the film the trailer looked really good and made me want to go and see it. However, I wouldn't have done as I would have felt awkward doing so. I can't really explain it in any other way than I would have felt uncomfortable asking for a ticket to see this movie, because of the subject matter. Stupid I know. But as you've now told us it's disapointing I no longer have a desire to see it.

Robin Kelly said...

It is a difficult subject matter but the acclaim the film got shows there is an appetite for films which are an alternative to the blockbuster, however deeply flawed they might be.

Lucy said...

Megan's law is an interesting idea because it's so contradictory. Telling parents there's a paedo in the area is the right thing AND the wrong thing. As a parent myself I desperately want to know where all these freaks are. However, if I knew, I'd want to move and I would never stop moving probably. Also, there's the vigilante problem. Anyway, I'm of the opinion the police do this megan's law unofficially. I got a knock at the door once when I was living above a chip shop and a man was at the door. He said he "knew" there was a paedophile moving next door to me and the reason he was telling me was because he noticed I had a child. As it happened, he told me this the day before I moved in any case, but I've thought to this day this guy was either an off duty policeman who had been informed, or the paedophile himself.

Robin Kelly said...

The thing is, with Megan's Law or not, you'd still need to be vigilant about those who haven't been convicted yet. But that means being mistrustful and fearful and that's no way to live.

Lucy said...

Absolutely agree. However, whether we like it or not, we have changed as a society - the onus is on people proving they're NOT on the wrong side of the law when it comes to things like rape and sex crimes against kids, rather than it being the other way round. I'm torn between thinking that's an outrage against civil liberties and wanting to keep my kids safe... I think both sides have merits and hate both sides too.