Hard Choices and Hard Candy - 11/4

Arriving out of the blue this week was the news that Rockford was about to host its very own gaming convention, Rock-Con 2006, something I would have expected to be relegated to a larger city like Chicago. Out of curiosity, Satanica – the big gamer in the family – Special K and I loaded up in the car and took a ride out to the indoor sports arena to check it out. I suppose the Midwest shouldn’t be considered such a strange place to find a gaming convention, as Dungeons and Dragons was created not too far away from us in Lake Geneva, WI. The Rock-Con consisted of a dealer area and a dozen or so gaming tables set up with all sorts of tabletop and RPGs. Satanica was in her element hunting through boxes of goodies searching for dragon miniatures, while I was mildly disappointed by the lack of representation of PC and console based games.

After returning home, we prepared for another fantastic Saturday Night Freak Show. It was a modest turnout after last weekend’s Movie Night To End All Movie Nights, with Trixie, Oblisk, Baygean, Special K, Satanica and I gathered in the basement with a couple Taylor Street pizzas to watch David Slade’s much-hyped Sundance award winner, Hard Candy.

The Animatrix episode The Final Flight of the Osiris was our opening short film. Produced by Square USA, the same outfit (now defunct) behind the photoreal CGI feature film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, The Final Flight of the Osiris tells a story that serves as prelude to The Matrix Reloaded, as the crew of the ship Osiris spots the preparation for the machine’s assault on the human city of Zion and must race against time to get the message out to the resistance. The visuals are at the cutting edge of what CGI and motion capture technology can deliver, with characters and designs appearing photorealistic. The problem with the technology comes into play once the characters move – there’s a mannequin-like plasticity to the facial features and a certain weightlessness to the bodies in motion. Still, it’s fascinating to look at. Warner Bros. felt good enough about it to attach The Final Flight of the Osiris to release prints of Dreamcatcher in 2001.

Our main feature, Hard Candy, made a lot of noise at the Sundance film festival, leading to a bidding war for distribution rights. Billed as a next-gen Fatal Attraction, the film introduces us to 14-year old Haley (Ellen Page), who meets 32-year old photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson) in an internet chat room. Right away, the sexualized flirting of the opening chat sequence creates an air of tension which will not let up for the duration of the film’s running time. The two decide to meet in real-life and the film becomes more uncomfortable as they decide to return to Jeff’s apartment under the pretense of listening to a bootleg mp3. Once there, however, we discover Haley’s true nature – she is a predator who believes Jeff to be a pedophile – and once in his home drugs him, ties him to a chair and begins an intense interrogation.

Basically constructed as a two-character play (written by playwright/screenwriter Brian Nelson), director Slade amps up the tension with his shooting style, which employs extreme close ups and rigid control of the color scheme (his digital colorist, Jean-Clement Soret, receives billing in the opening credits). He is able to manipulate our allegiances with considerable storytelling skill. Is Jeff the monster that Haley believes him to be? Is Haley an unbalanced teenager? Ellen Page plays Haley with fiery intelligence and quick wit. Her sweetness makes her even more threatening – especially in an extended sequence in the middle section of the film which reminded me of a scene in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S. As Jeff, Patrick Wilson tries to win his captor over with his charm and then his all-too-human desperation. Our sympathies go with him as the situation gets worse. But should they?

Based on his skill demonstrated here, director Slade netted the directorial assignment on the long awaited adaptation of Steve Nile’s horror comic 30 Days of Night, produced by Sam Rami. Leading man Wilson was last seen in Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera after appearing in the disastrous historical epic, The Alamo. Leading lady Page starred as Kitty Pride in X-Men: The Last Stand. Sandra Oh, who appears briefly as an inquisitive neighbor, is currently starring in the hit TV show Grey’s Anatomy.

Hard Candy asks tough questions of its audience about the nature of vigilante justice. Highly recommended.