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How I Choked on Hard Candy

by Luke Pyzik

I have to preface this by saying that I am the most desensitized moviegoer that I know. I've sat through the most heinous acts ever committed to film without batting an eye. I love gory horror flicks and intense thrillers. I've never walked out of a movie for any reason my entire life. Bring out the laundry list of what are considered to be the most disturbing, stomach churning films ever made, and I've checked almost all of them off.

During "Hard Candy," I literally had an anxiety attack and had to leave the theater.

There are a couple reasons why I think this happened. I recently saw "Hostel," loved it, and have been reading a bunch of interviews with Eli Roth where he talks about people passing out during test screenings of the film. I've been in an audience on two different occasions where people have passed out. An old man sitting behind me at "The Princess and the Warrior" bit the dust hard during the grueling tracheotomy scene, and his family had to carry him out. But the most insane thing I ever saw was during the Chicago Book Fair at a Chuck Palahniuk reading of his short story "Guts." The story is about a guy who likes to masturbate in very creative and disturbing ways. One of these ways is by grinding his ass on the filter at the bottom of his parent's pool while rubbing one out. The story is called "Guts." You can imagine where it goes. Anyway, during the very graphic reading, no less than 8 people passed out. Palahniuk was the only person in the vicinity not worried, as he reassured everyone that this happens every time he reads this story. That's why he reads it. Palahniuk rules.

So during an extended scene in "Hard Candy" involving a pair of scissors and a large bag of ice, I understandably began to get a little uncomfortable. No big deal. But then, tragically, my mind started drifting to these thoughts of people passing out in theaters. On both of the occasions when I witnessed it happening, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, and recounted the events like movie war stories to all my friends many times over. But now I began to think about how embarrassing it must be for those people whose weak stomachs got the better of them. I was alone in the theater, as my girlfriend had no interest in tagging along after reading "Hard Candy's" plot synopsis. What would happen if I passed out? Would this creepy guy down the isle help me, or would he do something else to me? Would an ambulance have to come? Would they stop the movie? Oh, shit, people are going to be telling their friends a story about ME for the rest of their lives. Great.

My mind totally got away from me. I freaked, began to get dizzy, and was hyperventilating. But I was determined not to walk out. I stood my ground through the entire scene, relaxed a little, and laughed too loudly at a joke delivered by Ellen Page that was more tongue-in-cheek funny than it was laugh-out-loud funny. I was trying to make myself feel better, but it wasn't working. Next, there was a scene involving a tazer. Fuck this. I had to go splash some water on my face. I told myself I would come back in 2 minutes.

The bathroom sink was one of those sensor deals and it was only spitting out warm water. I splashed some on my face, but it wasn't helping. I kind of felt like puking, and I kind of felt like sobbing. I flirted with the idea going into a stall to do one or the other, but my legs wouldn't allow it. They wanted me to keep moving.

See, that's the other thing about "Hard Candy." It's just non-stop nastiness and discomfort from the first second. It never lets up. Even the comic relief is so pitch dark that it pokes at you uncomfortably. It is so unrelenting and so bleak that it made my mind go places I didn't want it to go death, the darkness of humanity, the evil that exists in the world, and the grey area that surrounds everything. It depressed me almost to the point of tears. There is a wretched sense of disconnectedness we have with these two main characters. We know nothing about their true nature; we don't know who is right or wrong or who may be lying. We cannot route for either one of them with a clear conscious. The Ellen Page character is not a typical vigilante with a clear agenda, and the Patrick Wilson character is pretty obviously a pedophile that deserves punishment. But this? This?

I decided I wasn't going to go back in the theater. I needed fresh air. I still felt like I might pass out. After sitting outside for about ten minutes, I got in my car and drove home, still breathing too heavily, my heart still beating a little too quickly. I probably should have called for a ride, but I was trying to spare some shred of dignity. After getting home, hugging my girlfriend and my dog, I laid down on the couch and finally began to relax. Then I got pissed at myself. I wanted to know how the goddamn movie ended.

That this happened to me is a testament to how fucking well made this movie is. The performances by Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page are so good that, for a second, I believed this sick shit was actually happening. Page, particularly, really freaked me out with her unrelenting, diabolical hatred. The fact that I am also a minor claustrophobic probably also contributed to my anxiety attack. David Slade shoots the movie in tight close ups all the way through to give it this insane claustrophobic feel. The production design is all squares and hard edges. You're tired down. You're stuck in a box that you are not getting out of. Slade really directs the hell out of this movie.

So there's my confession. a hardened movie fanatic gone soft. Thanks for letting me get all this off my chest. I've been mulling over going back to see the rest of the movie, but I honestly don't know if I can do it. Just writing about the film now, my palms are a little sweaty. At this point, it's not so much the movie that frightens me, but the thought that what happened to me before could happen to me again. It's those kinds of thoughts that that will sour you on something for life. It's just one of those things. But still, even though I haven't seen the whole film, I'm tempted to call "Hard Candy" a masterpiece. What else can you say for a film that gets into your head and puts the screws to you like this one did to me?

I need to lie down.

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originally posted: 05/02/06 11:11:44
last updated: 06/03/06 18:24:02
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