Screen Gems

Patrick Wilson & Elliot Page in one of the most frightening–and overlooked–thrillers ever

Hard Candy

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Sticky: Hard Candy

In honor of Elliot Page’s first sit-down, TV interview with Oprah Winfrey since coming out as transgender, we would like to remind our readers of the actor’s auspicious 2005 debut.

Hard Candy casts Page as Hayley, a 14-year-old internet chatterbox. She captures the attention of Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a 32-year-old photographer who convinces her to meet up for coffee. A flirtatious conversation ensues, which sees the pair adjourn to Jeff’s house. There, Hayley suggests they have a cocktail. Jeff reluctantly agrees…and suddenly loses consciousness. When he wakes up, Hayley has him tied to a chair, and accuses him of pedophilia.

More than that we’ll not reveal here, as Hard Candy is the kind of movie best enjoyed for its many twists, reversals, and unyielding suspense. And when we say “unyielding,” we mean it: rarely have we ever seen a movie this white-knuckle tense. We chalk that up to the splendid performances by Page and Wilson–virtually the only two actors to appear on screen for the whole of the film’s runtime (Sandra Oh has a cameo, and to our memory, is the only other speaking role). As consummate performers, both Page and Wilson layer their characters with one secret after the next. Director David Slade somehow manages to make what is essentially a single location feel expansive, and the script by Brian Nelson knows how to toy with an audience. Is Jeff a pedophile? Is Hayley just crazy? Can both be true? Can both be false? Hard Candy inspires passionate conversation and reflection afterward.

Intense yet not violent, shocking but not graphic, and featuring two electric performances, we suggest giving Hard Candy a watch. As with the Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman, it’s the kind of film that begs questions that may not have definitive answers, and not the kind of movie viewers will soon forget.

Streams on Tubi, VUDU, Amazon, YouTube & iTunes.