Warning! Hard Candy is not for the faint of heart. An intense, dark but compelling piece of cult filmmaking, it recalls the likes of Swimming With Sharks and even Reservoir Dogs in its casual use of harrowing torture and complex psychology. But even the paper cuts and ear-slicing scenes in those films are nothing compared to what the pivotal scene of this baby will put you through.
Both screenwriter Brian Nelson and director David Slade are making their feature film debuts here. Not that you would know it. TV veteran Nelson's script is razor-sharp and culturally streetwise (dance-pop band Goldfrapp get a bit of a mullering, amusingly), while Slade makes the transition from music videos and commercials to the big screen with relative ease. The intensity is ramped up by intimate close-ups, claustrophobic camera angles that leave just enough to the imagination to make the film's 'difficult' scenes exponentially more grim and a stark lack of incidental music.
But it's the performances of its two key actors that really make this film fizz. Broadway-bred thesp Wilson is excellent as internet predator Jeff. His dark motives are clear, but his smooth patter makes the basis of the film - that young girls might be seduced by him - believable. When the situation gets beyond his control, his unrestrained panic and fear are enough to make you actually start empathising with his plight, despite his character's unquestionably nasty nature.
But even given Wilson's impressive showing, Canadian newcomer (and X-Girl) Ellen Page pockets the movie throughout - imagine Natalie Portman with claws and you're halfway there. Not content to play Hayley as a simpering, doe-eyed victim, she's soon using her guile, sarcasm, sharp wit and, yes, sexuality to ensure that Jeff isn't getting things all his own icky way.
Too theatrical and stretched out to be considered more than a promising film, Hard Candy's greatness is to be found in this young actress: stardom beckons for Page.
Great performances, a savage script and clever direction make this a future cult property with a leading lady you must get to know.