Hard Candy‘s title comes from internet slang for an under-aged girl. That under-age girl is the outstanding Ellen Page. She was 17 when she made the film.

Perhaps still recognisable as Kitty Pryde from X-Men: The Last Stand, here, she plays the tomboyish 14-year-old chat-room adventurer Hayley. Under the alias thonggrrl14, she arranges to hook up in person with lensmaster319 whom she’s been chatting online with for three weeks.

Lensmaster319 turns out to be a suave 32-year-old fashion photographer Jeff Kohlver who shoots compromised teenage models for magazines with a little environmental conservation photography on the side.

He’s played by Patrick Wilson, fondly remembered for his Emmy-nominated performance as Joe Pitt, the tormented bisexual Mormon in the Angels In America TV mini-series.

The two of them embark on their elaborately scripted, banter-filled dialogue.

Banter turns into a battle of wits, a cat and mouse game that keeps forcing us to ask, who is the predator and who is the prey?

Hayley quickly emerges as the quicker-witted of the two-hander. She reveals herself to be a score-settling Lolita, out for medieval style justice against a man she suspects of rape and murder.

Shot mostly in extreme close up, this genre-twisting psychological thriller has been described as the worst date movie ever invented. It’s a cyber-dating tale turned claustrophobic people-trapped-in-apartment movie set deep in the Hollywood Hills.

The initial inspiration for Hard Candy was a spate of real-life attacks that took place in Japan when schoolgirls turned the tables on older men trolling the internet for under-age dates.

As a film dealing with pedophilia, Hard Candy‘s got nothing on Gregg Araki’s outstanding Mysterious Skin, which caused such a censorship furore last year.

Some critics have panned Hard Candy as an exploitation flick. But this slick-appearing low-budget number, filmed in just 18 days, certainly has some surplus entertainment value as it lurches from psycho-thriller into horror territory.

Like any good horror movie, there are lots of laughs that come out of the shock and awe in Hard Candy. There are also plenty of potential laughs for the wrong reasons.

Aside from the banter, Hayley’s a resourceful girl scout type when it comes to seeking revenge on a rapist.

She’s brilliant with the knot tying and surprisingly handy with a scalpel and a medical textbook. Yes, get ready to cross your legs, boys. Yikes!

But does this amount to female empowerment?

That’s certainly the way Lions Gate Films, who bought the rights to Hard Candy for US$4 million, wanted to sell it. But I have to say, I’m not convinced.

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