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'Hard Candy' Plays Mind Games with Evil

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'Hard Candy' Plays Mind Games with Evil

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'Hard Candy' Plays Mind Games with Evil

'Hard Candy' Plays Mind Games with Evil

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Who's the bad guy here? Is it Patrick Wilson? Is it Ellen Page? 'Hard Candy' asks hard questions. Lionsgate Films hide caption

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Lionsgate Films

Who's the bad guy here? Is it Patrick Wilson? Is it Ellen Page? 'Hard Candy' asks hard questions.

Lionsgate Films

Hard Candy, now available on DVD, is a psychological thriller with substance, starring Patrick Wilson and the young actress Ellen Page. It focuses on Internet predators, but there's a big plot twist. Critic Elvis Mitchell and Lynn Neary discuss the film.

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. Coming up, a visit with writer Richard Ford.

But first, a little more hard candy after the Halloween hangover. We're not talking about the kind wrapped in plastic. We mean the film Hard Candy, an indie thriller that's just been released on video.

And like that sweet stuff you may have gorged on earlier this week, Hard Candy might leave you feeling more than a little queasy. To find out why, we've got WEEKEND EDITION's entertainment critic, Elvis Mitchell, in our New York bureau standing by. Good to have you with us, Elvis.

ELVIS MITCHELL: Thank you, Lynn. And you know, there is a little bit of nutritional value in this, unlike that candy you're talking about.

NEARY: All right. Well, explain the premise to us. 'Cause as I understand it, it looks like it's going in one direction and then takes a pretty sharp turn.

MITCHELL: It absolutely does. It's like watching one of those things on Dateline where it's basically about predatory pedophiles. It takes a big twist on that, though, and it casts in the lead an actor named Patrick Wilson who many people who may have seen in the adaptation of Angels in America that was on HBO a few years ago.

And it plays on his kind of bland, blonde handsomeness and his easy manner. He's going to pick up a 14-year-old girl, played with amazingly expressive voice by a young actress named Ellen Page, and how the tables get turned on both him and her later in the film.

NEARY: Now, some reviewers have found this movie pretty tough to sit through, and some even called it exploitive.

MITCHELL: Well, it's an exploitation movie with exploitation as its subject. And it's not apologetic, it doesn't let people off the hook at all. It takes one character we think is sympathetic and sort of switches things around. So we're kind of sympathetic for someone we shouldn't be sympathetic for.

But what the director manages to do is build this sense of claustrophobia and dread and gets real performances out of the actors. So that's why I think maybe a lot of people find it an incredibly hard movie to shake off.

NEARY: One of the things that people talk about with regard to this film is the performances by the young actress.

MITCHELL: Yes. She's an actress named Ellen Page. And the great thing about this movie is these actors people may not have seen much before this. They're now on the way to becoming movie stars. She has kind of an inexpressive face, but a very expressive voice, so we're not quite sure how to take her.

(Soundbite of movie "Hard Candy")

Ms. ELLEN PAGE (Actor): (as Hayley Stark) It's just so easy to blame a kid, isn't it? Just because a girl knows how to imitate a woman does not mean she's ready to do what a woman does.

NEARY: How does this film compare with other recent psychological thrillers?

MITCHELL: Well, generally, in studio psychological thrillers there is a conceit that somebody has to be sympathetic. Someone has to be someone we kind of respond to in a way that makes us feel like we have to find somebody who's good and someone who is evil in the movie.

And this is a movie basically sort of about the fungibility of evil, about how it's everywhere and that these implacable services that we respond to can really fool us. And the director uses bright candy-like lights at the beginning and candy-like colors and surfaces to sort of lull us into a state of well-being that he then sort of subverts. And I do think it's a subversive movie.

Because unlike recent psychological thrillers, this is a movie that harkens back to stuff like the early Wes Craven movies like Last House on the Left or Don't Look in the Basement, those movies that seem to be about one thing but actually ask some questions of social import.

NEARY: Elvis Mitchell is our entertainment critic. He's also host of The Treatment on member station KCRW. And he spoke to us from our New York bureau. All right. Thanks so much for talking with us, Elvis.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

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