Hard Candy (2005)

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The film’s tightly-wound tension is spoilt by another of Ellen Page’s irritating, arrogant performances and a variety of narrative issues and implausibilities

In every Ellen Page film I have seen, her character is an infuriatingly smug, precocious, androgynous pain in the arse, and ‘Hard Candy’ is no different. In fact, it’s worse, her painfully irritating screen presence is accentuated by her total dominance in the film, she’s even more unbearable than she was in the ironically titled ‘Super’. When I realised her performance was going in this familiar loathsome direction, I almost stopped watching it, but I found the strength to continue.

It started strongly, the first 20 minutes of ‘Hard Candy’ are genuinely creepy and unsettling, mostly because of the ambiguity of the situation. It’s also here that Ellen Page is actually very good, she’s natural and only adds to the tension, she can give likable performances after all. However, it swiftly descends into a stressful, frustrating ordeal of a film. My main problem with it was that throughout Hayley’s antagonisation of Jeff, he isn’t a confirmed paedophile or threat. Jeff is actually a character one can empathise with. He’s clearly morally dubious, he has crossed the line in his contact with Hayley, but he seems to realise this – ‘Look. I’ve been lonely, okay? And that makes me stupid, but I am not a paedophile.’ Is Jeff saying that as a way out? What were his intentions before things turned against him? I didn’t know, but his innocence seemed credible, which made the majority of the film seem to be unjustified, sadistic torture committed by an irrational, evil and maddeningly arrogant psychopath.

Another of the film’s problems is straightforward implausibility. 5ft 1 Ellen Page, who looks like she must weigh under 100lbs, somehow gets Patrick Wilson in all sorts of predicaments which are simply impossible. The film can just about convince us of her dexterity with rope, but not that she can support Wilson’s bodyweight to such a laughable extent. Though ‘Hard Candy’ is undeniably powerful and gripping, it is unfortunately spoilt by Ellen Page and narrative issues.

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Funny Games (1997)

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It’s condescending in its ill-judged commentary, but ‘Funny Games’ is an undeniably gripping and powerful film

‘Funny Games’ is one of the most provocative films I have ever seen, if not the most. Michael Haneke revisits themes of the media and desensitisation like he did in ‘Benny’s Video’, however this time Haneke is directly confronting his audience about the violence they supposedly watch with relish.

The antagonist of the film actually addresses the audience, asking ‘Don’t you want some plot development?’, ‘You’re on their side, aren’t you?’ He needlessly injects this nasty film with condescension and pretension, and none of it really works, Haneke only succeeds in appearing smug and self-righteous. Haneke has said that he makes the viewer an ‘accomplice’ of the murderers. No he doesn’t, not at all. Not once did I even begin to want to be an ‘accomplice’, the antagonists are some of the most wretched I’ve ever seen, it’s nonsense. During the evil mind games that the killers inflict on the family, I felt like them, a victim, not an ‘accomplice’. I, like any other viewer, was desperately hoping that the family could somehow escape their captors.

The ill-judged provocation climaxes in a scene where Haneke ‘manipulates’ the audience, making them ‘applaud’ violence; but applauding is a completely justified response to the scene, which, without giving anything away, concerns the maiming of a truly reprehensible character. If Haneke himself was in Anna and Georg’s situation, he’d be utterly liberated by what occurs; it is the film’s most self-righteous, hypocritical scene. It is obvious that violence can be used accordingly, it is sometimes a necessity, and this particular scene is the most appropriate use of violence imaginable.

The majority of the violence one witnesses in film and TV is far removed from reality, people are aware and afraid of the ugly, messy truth of violence, the films that ‘Funny Games’ tries to chastise serve only as harmless escapism. Haneke seems very pleased with this creation, but he shouldn’t be, this rather ambitious film falls flat, achieving in merely riling its audience, not holding a mirror to their faces.

Haneke seems to think he has the viewer in a vice-like grip, and he does, but certainly not in the way he thinks he does, which is ‘manipulating’ and exposing sick little voyeurs. Instead, he keeps the stranglehold on his audience through his skill of building excruciating tension to the point where the eventual violence, which is never gratuitous, is wholly more devastating.

It’s undeniably powerful, and the acting is unsettlingly excellent; it’s a thoroughly unpleasant, tortuous film. However, if you need reminding of the ugly reality of violence, there are many films out there that will deliver without the pretense.

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