HARD CANDY
2005
Dir: David Slade
Controversy can be a good thing!
When tabloid newspapers react with shock and horror to a film and call for it to be banned, I suspect that somewhere the producers are opening a bottle of champagne.

On December 26th 2013, Christina McDowell, daughter of Tom Prousalis wrote an open letter published in the LA Weekly. She objected to the film 'The Wolf of Wall Street', based on the story of her father. She writes "You're glorifying it... your film degrades women... each of you should feel ashamed... you people are dangerous..." and more.

The film had only got a 'C' Cinemascore grade from audiences. This was pretty bad news for the film. Only eight films in 2013 scored less than a C+. Distributors were worried about the film's prospects at the box office.

The week after Christina's letter, the film earned $13.5 million in its second weekend. A drop of 50% in the second week is common, but 'The Wolf of Wall Street' dropped 28%.

Industry analysts concluded that the film was helped by the controversy.

'Zero Dark Thirty' is another example of a film whose success at the box office was boosted by controversial media coverage.

The French even have a phrase for this phenomenon 'Succès de scandale'. Nor is it anything new; Stravinsky's ballet 'The Rite of Spring' caused a riot when it was first performed, but it catapulted Stravinsky to fame.

And how can we not mention Paris Hilton, who has built an entire career on a scandal?

It is certainly true that when someone tells us that we shouldn't see something, it usually makes us want to watch it all the more.

How many people have yawned their way through a Lars von Trier movie waiting for the controversial bit of explicit sex? Or sat through 'Nine Songs' with no interest whatsoever in the nine songs?

But... there is an exception - films touching on the subject of pedophilia.

Even as I write this, some of you are probably reacting 'Yeuch'. Here was a (hopefully) interesting article talking about controversial films, and I spoil it by talking about something that no-one really wants to hear about.

It would seem that while we are happy to see all forms of torture, violence, explicit sex, even youthful sex from directors like Larry Clark, the concept of pedophilia is simply something we would rather not even think about.

It thus remains a giant taboo.

Of course there are filmmakers who are brave or foolish enough to tackle this taboo.
They have almost always met with box office failure.
'L.I.E.' in 2001, 'Mysterious Skin', 'The Woodsman' are all examples of films which tried and failed to attract an audience.

'Hounddog' with Dakota Fanning, filmed on a budget of $3.8m, returned a hopeless $128k at the US Box Office, in spite of a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

'Hard Candy' is no exception.
It tells the story of a 14-year old girl who engages with a potential child molester on the internet, and decides to visit him, but with an unexpected motive. It performed better at the box office than might have been expected, but it remains an example where the controversy (it was banned in a number of countries) did not seem to help the film.

Nevertheless, it remains a taut and suspenseful film which deserves a look.

There are 609 reviews on IMDB, and they range from 'Worst film of the year' to 'Absolutely fantastic'.
It won a number of festival awards, particularly for the performance of Ellen Page as the young girl.

Paul Spurrier