This was my first attendance at Dead By Dawn, and I have to say it was a very strong opener. Film one, night one, began with a little introduction speech by the founder and Director who informed us how hard a job she had this year trying to find good films, a short dig at Eli Roth was fired and received a surprisingly positive response. Then came the rules of the house, weak bladdered males with pints were warned, gossiping people were threatened and glowing screens were ruled out as a serious faux pas. Already I liked this woman.
The atmosphere was good, a huge mix of people were around the cinema and the large screen one of the Filmhouse was almost packed. The applause died down, the lights slowly dimmed, and apart from someone snoring, a mobile phone going off and the weak bladdered pint laden males coming and going, the audience was transfixed.
Hard Candy has been getting a lot of press of late, and some of it cautiously negative, and you can understand why. From the face of it the film is hugely controversial and promises to take the viewer into quite a forbidden realm, have a look at the IMDB blurb to understand why.
A provocative drama about a 32-year-old man who takes home a 14-year-old girl he meets on the Internet--with surprising consequences.
From the opening scenes you're surprised at a number of things. The relationship of the two characters, the superbly scripted dialogue, and how beautifully the film has been shot.
The camera settles in for very close shots from the moment the credits clear, and once a short introductory piece has been completed you're intensely close and very personal with these characters. The camera turns in every facial movement, their reactions and expressions and the camera keeps this tight focus while the characters seem to move freely, falling in and out of focus quite often.
Behind them strong and bold colours are used to represent mood and punctuate the storyline, and the lighting sometimes changes during a scene. What effect this does have, and Adele was spot on when she pointed this out, is to make everything look like wonderfully framed photography, that being the occupation of Jeff the male lead. Visually it's intense and pulls you right into the characters. What it also does is bring out the performances of both actors and voyeuristic, as though you are standing there beside them watching someone as you would in conversation. I found myself fascinated by this style, and just how well it was shot.
The film could be said to be dialogue heavy, although not in a negative way, its just like stage play where the action is confined to one set and the exploration of the characters and their motives is through the dialogue, interactions and their progressing relationship. However there are parts of the story that I felt were unexplored, for example Hayley would mention something which provoked a strong reaction from Jeff and this would indicate to the viewer that there was something beneath this, something more to be explored, yet it never was. On a few other occasions sections of exposition seemed to last just a little bit too long.
Yet even with these issues, I was still intently transfixed to the story and how it was to play out, and that is where another small failing came into view for me, the ending. Now I'm not one to regurgitate plots or reveal spoilers, and I'm not starting here, but the ending does need a little bit of a mention. There seemed to be so much build up, and so much ground covered in the journey to the end, that there was little room for manoeuvre in the final moments. With only a couple of possibilities it wasn't hard at all to see the ending, and it passed without real surprise.
In this film, it's all about the journey of discovery. In many aspects it reminded me of Asian cinema, there's strong elements of two titles in particular, neither of which I'll mention here for fear of giving away events, but that feeling is very strong. Yet again though, it's the Asian films that win out for me.
Still, they do a great job here. There are no Hollywood clichés, it's uniquely filmed and the filming is directly matched to the mood of the scenes, it solely focusses on two characters and their dialogue together, and it's cleverly scripted to boot.
The actors also shine through here as well. Patrick Wilson gives a convincingly real performance, but it's Ellen Page that totally knocks you out with her manipulative, and quite calmly psychotic performance. She is chilling. What is also noticeable from the outset is the connection between these two actors, they seem to gel and spark so easily onscreen.
This is a film of subtleties and suggestions, even within the story and between the characters themselves. It's superbly visualised, directed and filmed, the writing is sharp and witty, and the acting is excellent. The audience really responded to the film, there was real enjoyment. Laughter, nervous laughter and plenty of squirming from the outset.
All in all a great film and a great opening night.