Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Arriving in select theaters Friday, The End Of The Tour belongs to a fine tradition of movies that feature little more than two actors gabbing at each other. We’ve lined up five days of the same, recommending some fine two-person talkfests.
About halfway through Hard Candy, David Slade’s two-hander of a psychological cat-and-mouse game, Patrick Wilson gives a long, anguished speech about a horrifying memory from his childhood. Pain clouding his eyes, he recounts the experience in slow, excruciating detail. Gradually, he trails off, the reminiscence briefly taking him out of the moment. It’s an ugly, sad story, the verbal equivalent of slowing down as you pass by a nasty car accident and survey the damage. There’s a momentary silence. And then Ellen Page threatens to cut off his balls.
There’s not much sense in trying to keep the first-act twist of Hard Candy a secret, because without it, there’s little impetus to see a film that would otherwise hinge on whether or not a pedophile successfully seduces a teenager. (Gross.) No, Hard Candy’s deliciously vengeful twist pivots on the idea of a seemingly naive young girl turning the tables on her predatory would-be abuser. After photographer Jeff Kohlver (Wilson) successfully arranges an IRL meeting to see Hayley Stark (Page), the barely adolescent girl with whom he’s been chatting online, the two end up back at his house. Hayley goes to pour them a couple of screwdrivers, and after several drinks, she demands that Jeff, a photographer, take her picture. But just as things start to get really uncomfortable, Jeff passes out on the floor. When he comes to, he’s tied up—and suffice it to say, Hayley is not the innocent naïf he thought.
It might be the first of its kind: a pedophile-revenge flick where it’s the young person taking the initiative, rather than some righteous stiff out of Law & Order: SVU casting. But while the story and themes place it alongside other revenge flicks like Ms. 45 or Death Wish, it’s the smart and elegant construction that elevate the movie above its pulpy subject matter. Slade, as he’s proven with episodes of Hannibal and Breaking Bad—and even The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, certainly the best installment of that misbegotten series—has a wonderful eye for scene construction. He takes what is essentially a nearly two-hour conversation and manages to sustain tension throughout. It’s an impressive high-wire act, and even as it gets messier toward the end, the sense of nervy uncertainty remains.
Slade also proves an expert in the use of color and space. With the help of cinematographer Jo Willems (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), he constructs a house that acts as a silent third character. The characters stand in rooms of stark red or blue, with light from the windows completely shifting the tint as key moments occur. The outside world becomes a jarring threat of its own, especially in a brief and pivotal scene when a friendly neighbor (played by Sandra Oh, the sole outside party to really have any dialogue besides Wilson and Page) stops by. The bright and vibrant spectrum of real-world colors act as a force of threatening illumination on the dark machinations taking place within.
Most important of all, Page and Wilson are superb in their respective roles. It’s easy to see why Jason Reitman chose her for Juno after witnessing her performance here. That wise-beyond-her-years demeanor fuses with an indomitable spirit of resistance, and she manages to make her tiny 14-year-old vengeance-seeker genuinely menacing. Wilson, a great actor when he wants to be, creates a fully-realized creep, the monster who refuses to see himself for what he is. Working from a naturalistic screenplay by Brian Nelson, he finds the little moments that ground his character in a disturbed humanity.
Yes, there are some moments that err on the side of histrionic, but in a playful, De Palma-esque manner, with Slade cutting in for hard closeups and angular pans to match the occasionally outsized tone of the dialogue. It’s no spoiler to say it’s a deeply satisfying film, daring and just far enough outside conventionality to suggest an element of risk. Slade, also an executive producer on Hannibal, clearly knows where the line between safe and edgy lies, and outside of that experiment in pushing NBC’s boundaries, this is where he does it best.
Availability: Hard Candy is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be purchased through the major digital services.