In order to get down to the real (red) meat of the matter, I will quickly go through the essentials of Hard Candy's plot: A 32-year-old fashion photographer (Patrick Wilson) and a 14-year-old girl (Ellen Page) who are virtually acquainted online decide to meet IRL (in real life). The tryst occurs in a Los Angeles coffee shop. The girl is the game; the man is the hunter. She unwisely suggests going to his place, and once at his place, she unwisely suggests drinking vodka. She is alone, she is getting drunk, she is incredibly stupid. But then things turn upside down and we see that the girl, rather than the man, is in control of the situation. The girl brutalizes the photographer in ways I can't say because it would constitute that thing Americans loathe: a spoiler. Page's performance as the girl is the centerpiece of the film. Without her energy, Hard Candy would be stone cold.
And now for the real matter: Hard Candy is a pure fantasy—and a very dangerous one, at that. At Sundance, the president of Lions Gate (who bought the film for $4 million) told reporters that Hard Candy could sell as "a female-empowerment [horror] movie." But how many 14-year-olds in the world (girls or boys) have the intellectual and financial resources to orchestrate, against a pedophile, a revenge that is as elaborate and efficacious as the one in Hard Candy? A person of that age is, in reality, just a child—and this is precisely where the film, in theory, falls apart. If she can act as an adult, then she can be judged as one. But her form of empowerment is a fantasy, whereas a 14-year-old receiving an adult judgment is a email@example.com