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It seems like there's news every week about children meeting up with strange adults on the internet, and especially in those chat rooms. That's where the new movie thriller Hard Candy starts. But Bob Mondello says the film ends up somewhere surprising.
Mr. BOB MONDELLO (Film Critic): Haley and Jeff have been flirting in an internet chat room for about there weeks. Jeff has learned that Haley is 14 and in middle school. Haley has learned that Jeff is 32 and seems like a nice guy. And alarm bells will be going off for everyone in the audience as the opening credits end and they finally meet at a café.
Ms. ELLEN PAGE (as Haley): You just don't really look like the kind of guy who has to meet girls over the internet.
Mr. PATRICK WILSON (as Jeff): Well I think it's better to meet people online first sometimes. You get to know what they're like inside. You work as a photographer, you find out real quick, people's faces lie.
Ms. PAGE (as Haley): Does my face lie? (LAUGH)
Mr. WILSON (as Jeff): I look at those eyes and I see a girl who reads Sadie Smith, who loves Monty Python episodes and who desperately, madly, deeply wants, needs, longs for more chocolate.
MONDELLO: Are you squirming yet? Well you will be when Haley agrees to go home with Jeff, which she does a few moments later. And again when Jeff is the one who ends up bound and scared for his life.
Ms. PAGE (as Haley): If a kid is experimenting and says something flirtatious, you ignore it, you don't encourage it.
Mr. WILSON (as Jeff): Look I've been lonely, okay? And that makes me stupid. But I'm not a pedophile. Look this is some horrible mistake. Just untie me now. We'll forget this whole thing happened. Just untie me now.
Ms. PAGE (as Haley): So when I am ready to go, I'll call a cab and call another one to let you lose.
Mr. WILSON (as Jeff): And when will that be?
Ms. PAGE (as Haley): I'm not sure yet.
MONDELLO: By this point, and we're still very early in the film, it will have occurred to you that Haley is not the innocent she initially appeared. It may also register that Jeff, if he is not what she thinks he is, probably doesn't deserve the fate she has planned for him. This is the first of quite a few switches of allegiance the film wants you to make. And Director David Slade is almost alarmingly effective about getting you to leap off whatever moral fence you're straddling, and then persuading you that you've jumped to the wrong side. But just for the sake of the argument, let's say that there's a right side to the issue of torturing potential, or even confirmed, pedophiles. That's it's possible, in short, for this slick, sick flick to bring you to a place where you won't feel sleazy. Well then who is Hard Candy suppose to appeal to?
Molestation victims? I'm guessing they aren't going to view it as therapy exactly. Which leaves pederasts, voyeurs, sadists? There's something to appeal to all of those groups, but are they a big enough crowd to justify a studio release? I mean Hard Candy is a fine showcase for newcomer Ellen Page, who was reportedly 15 during filming. And its at least as sharply directed as the Farrah Fawcett picture Extremities, in which a battered wife battered her ex.
The films Saw and Saw II suggested there is an audience willing to imagine itself being tortured. Or in the case of Hard Candy, maybe doing the torturing. But that's entertainment? I'm Bob Mondello.
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