Every day, it seems, brings another report of an adult who uses the Internet to seduce the underage, only to wind up ensnared by the cops. That might be a happy fate, though, compared to the one that awaits Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a Los Angeles fashion photographer who, in Hard Candy, makes a racy on-line connection with 14-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page). The two hook up at a coffee bar, where Jeff, a smug sophisticate, works hard to create the impression that he respects this teenager for her mind. They go to his place, they drink screwdrivers at noon, he takes out his camera, and…bam, he falls to the floor, drugged.
When he wakes up, he’s tied to a chair, and Hayley, far from a lascivious lamb, is revealed to be a fiery feminist avenger, acidly witty beyond her years. She has agreed to meet this swank modern-day Humbert for the purpose of torturing him for his sins. Be warned: As directed by David Slade, from a script by Brian Nelson that suggests David Mamet in a mood of porno sadism, Hard Candy is extreme — a battle of the sexes that glides from tricky to angry to shockingly ugly. As Jeff is forced to confront the ultimate male nightmare, the movie flirts with exploitation, only to be saved, somewhat, by the cleverness of its observations about male hypocrisy and female wrath. Mostly, it’s worth seeing for Ellen Page. Looking like a baby Sigourney Weaver, she takes off from the script’s dexterous sarcasms to play Hayley with an enlightened lack of mercy, an ability to stare down her enemy by thinking just like him. To watch Hard Candy is, at moments, to be very afraid, but the scariest thing about it is the fury of Page’s talent.