Strangers shouldn't talk to little girls.
A 2005 psychological thriller/Exploitation Film featuring Patrick Wilson as a 32-year old photographer named Jeff Kohlver and Ellen Page as the precocious 14-year-old Hayley Stark. They meet at a cafe after chatting online, and agree to go to Jeff's secluded house to have a little fun, where Hayley mixes the drinks and strips for a photo session. It seems that Jeff has the advantage, when he passes out and comes to, he is tied to a chair and being investigated by a not-so-innocent teenage girl. What follows is a series of arguments, cat-and-mouse games and psychological torture sessions, culminating in a tense rooftop encounter.
The film is interesting, due to its controversial nature and unsympathetic and hard-to-categorize lead characters.
Not to be confused with the Counting Crows album, the title track of that album or even the other album of the same name by Madonna. Or actual hard candy.
- Abuse Is Okay When Its Female On Male: Played straight as Hayley, a fourteen year old girl, is torturing Jeff as punishment for supposedly being a 32-year-old male predator (Jeff IS a predator, but it is not made absolutely clear in the movie, so viewers will abide by this trope at first), then deconstructed as Hayley crosses the Moral Event Horizon, and then reconstructed as Jeff's deeds get increasingly violent as well as Hayley uncovering more evidence that Jeff is a predator.
- Alone with the Psycho: Played with as the roles of "psycho" and "victim" switch several times between Hayley and Jeff from the second act onwards.
- Asshole Victim
- Ax Crazy: Jeff in the final act.
- Bifauxnen: Hayley, who looks more like a cute little boy than a Fille Fatale. Which makes sense, considering the actress.
- Billing Displacement: See that cool, stylized poster up there? It's been replaced by bland face shots of Hayley and Jeff now that Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson are stars.
- Candlelit Bath: Subverted, in its "girl goes to take a shower with the psycho in the house" variation. When the man holding the knife bursts into the bathroom and pulls back the shower curtain, he finds it empty. Then the girl leaps out from behind him holding a stungun.
- Chekhov's Gun: Played straight with the gun that Hayley finds while searching for Jeff's Porn Stash. Also, the missing: Donna Mauer poster at Nighthawks.
- Date My Avatar: Goes both ways. We have this charming guy and this sweet young girl, and they have so much in common. But they are both faking it. They are really predators, trying to lure each other into a trap.
- Dawson Casting: Ellen Page was 17 when she played the 14-year-old Hayley. This is disputable, however, since the only way we find out Hayley's age is when she tells us, and she's not exactly the most trustworthy type - it's entirely possible that she's older than fourteen.
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: When Jeff and Hayley first meet and he offers to send her bootleg MP3s:
Hayley: You have the concert?!
Jeff: Just one song. And a little louder, please, so the authorities know!
- Dirty Old Man: Though he is legitimately charming and physically attractive. And only about thirty.
- Driven to Suicide: Mixed with assisted suicide, with weird Mercy Kill overtones. Yeah, it's that kind of thing.
- The Ending Changes Everything: To a degree. The events we saw more or less happened as we saw them, but it's strongly implied that much of the backstory we've been given has been falsified.
- Evil Plan: Unusual in that there are two.
- Evil Versus Evil
- Exploitation Film
- Film Noir: It could be seen as a twisted neo-Noir, with its dark, bleak subject matter, its claustrophobic setting, and its grim protagonists. Hayley could be viewed as the Anti-Hero, the Femme Fatale and the Private Detective all in one, and Jeff could be seen as an Anti-Hero who is destroyed by becoming entangled with the Femme Fatale.
- Foreshadowing: "She slept with all the wrong people and ended up killing herself."
- And not long after that, "Four out of five doctors agree that I am actually insane."
- There is a clear shot of a missing person notice about Donna Mauer on the wall at the cafe.
- Genre Savvy - While it's not explicit, both seem to know enough about psychological thriller tropes to avoid them. Hayley easily brushes off a Hannibal Lecture.
- Gory Discretion Shot: We are never shown anything during the castration scene.
- That would have ruined the surprise. There was no castration, she was bluffing him.
- Groin Attack: Easily one of the most horrible groin assaults in cinema. It's also a subversion.
- Hannibal Lecture: Is just one of the many Breaking Speeches thrown back and forth.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Juno / Ariadne and Raoul / Nite Owl II. In the same movie.
- Hoist by His Own Petard or Karmic Death, from a certain point of view.
- Hopper Shot: The Nighthawks and a T-Shirt. An homage to the painting.
- I Lied: "...Or not."
- I Am Not Left-Handed: At the final climax of the film, Hayley reveals that she's been toying with Jeff from the very beginning and has known exactly what he is and what he's done from before he even talked to her
- Jittercam: In probably one of the most violent uses ever in film, and this was before Cloverfield.
- Karma Houdini: Obviously Hayley.
- Little Dead Riding Hood: Due to a lucky coincidence, Hayley's iconic garment is a red hoodie that matches the Little Red Riding Hood vibe of the first part of the movie. Later, this trope is brutally subverted by having the Riding Hood figure turn out to be the real threat. Yet the film makers swear up and down this was not meant to be symbolic.
- Little Red Fighting Hood: It's wolf v. wolf here, really.
- Little Miss Badass: Hayley Stark is a particularly frightening example. She could also be categorized as a Badass Fille Fatale, a Sociopathic Hero, an Ax Crazy Psycho for Hire, The Hunter, a Dark Action Girl, a Knight Templar, or even a Magnificent Bastard. At one point, Hayley takes down a gun-toting Jeff with a roll of cellophane. Cellophane, people! Ellen Page is terrifying.
- Mind Rape: This is Hayley's main tactic.
- Nosy Neighbor
- Not So Different
- Pay Evil Unto Evil
- Pedo Hunt
- Porn Stash
- Ripped from the Headlines: It's been said the story was inspired by gangs of young Japanese girls that have cropped up in recent years. They lure in certain kinds of men by playing the part of "innocent-yet-naughty" schoolgirls, and once they have one alone, they beat, rob, and blackmail him.
- Scenery Porn: The director had previously done music videos. The production looks absolutely sumptuous, even though the production was made on a shoestring -- exactly the state of most music videos.
- Serial Killer: By the end of the film, Hayley has a body count of at least two men. It's strongly implied that these are not her first.
- Well, lets also not forget that Jeff and his friend are heavily implied to have raped and killed the underage girl Hayley mentions. Implied being used loosely, because while Jeff denies it at first, he eventually says that it was all his friend's idea, to which Hayley replies that was the same defense the other man used after she confronted him.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Possibly. We learn nothing really about the characters' lives and there isn't much of a moral to draw from any of the proceedings.
- We never get a definite answer as to whether or not Jeff killed Donna Mauer.
- The Ace: What Hayley appears to be on the surface.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish: The combination to Jeff's safe consists of a significant date that is also part of his IM nickname and the date of his most (emotionally) important photo shoot, written on the back of his prints of said shoot.
- Partially subverted in that the full date/combination isn't written down, Hayley has to do some educated guesswork and trial and error to discover it.
- Vigilante Man: Hayley tries to be something like this -- or, at least, that's her justification for picking the victims she does.
- Villain Protagonist: Both Jeff and Hayley. Possibly.
- To the Pain: Hayley clearly just wants to torture him as much as she possibly can and then kill him
- Wham! Line: "Aaron told me you did it before he killed himself."
- X Meets Y: Lolita meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
- Word of God: Breaks the ambiguity to some degree, while enhancing the Misaimed Fandom aspects. At one point, the filmmakers as much as said that both characters are villain protagonists. Jeff is a pedophile, child molester, and possible murderer; and Hayley is a fledgling serial killer. Both of them are intended to be more or less equally sympathetic and repugnant; neither are even remotely heroic.