An extremely intense, brilliantly performed two-person character study centering on an adolescent girl (Ellen Page) and a pedophile (Patrick Wilson) who connect with each other over the internet. One of the reasons that I think this movie is so effective and disturbing is that it deals with a scary subject matter so timely and in-the-present in this age of not only technology, but where young girls dress, act, and sound like they could easily be adults. Of course, this does not come close to excusing the behavior of pedophiles (nothing could), and this film asks what would happen if a would-be victim got to her attacker first, and put him through the abuse and terror that he would, no doubt, expose her (or someone else) to sooner or later.
The set up is simple: Hayley, 14, (Page) and Jeff, 32, (Wilson) virtually meet over the internet in a chat room and eventually decide to meet up at a local coffee shop. A few hours later, after establishing a friendly vibe, the two decide to head back to Jeff’s place. It’s never explicitly vocalized that they are going back to his home for sex, but that is definitely the implication. I will stop there in terms of describing the story because I wouldn’t dream of ruining it for someone who may want to take this journey. Suffice it to say that what transpires is NOT what you would expect or could even imagine in your most vivid imaginary construct.
I am still astounded (I saw the film a few days ago) at the superior level of acting in this picture! I mean, if this film were not an indie and did not deal with such a taboo subject matter, Ellen Page would have easily walked away with an Oscar nomination. She is simply captivating. She maintains a sense of innocence, purity and girlishness, all the while presenting a much more vindictive and extremely frightening side to her character. It’s incredible to watch and her focus and dedication is miraculous. Wilson is just as good in some unbelievably intense scenes that will make your mouth drop to the floor as mine did. He, perhaps, has an even bigger challenge than Page in designing a character that isn’t textbook slimy as would be the easy way to portray a pedophile. He sees Jeff as a normal guy with a bad habit, really, and he presents him in such a way that the audience initially sees him as such, before coming to their senses and taking a step back and realizing he is what he is. He and Page are perfectly matched…I really can’t say enough about the brilliance of these two performances.
Sometimes with intimate character pieces, there is a risk of producing a film that looks and feels stagy (see ‘Hurlyburly,’ which even had a few more cast members than this piece, but still seemed like a glorified stage production). However, director David Slade, undoubtedly realizing this tendency, nicely overcomes this potential problem with fluid camerawork (invaluably assisted by cinematographer Jo Willems) and inventive angles to keep the viewer’s eyes moving instead of just resting on simple two-shots. The direction from Mr. Slade is assured and confident and he (along with Brian Nelson, screenwriter, and his amazing actors) creates a powerful and unsettling piece of cinema. It’s amazing that something this careful and top-notch was assembled in such a short period of time (18 days according to imdb). That’s just a nod to the extraordinary commitment and devotion of a remarkably talented company.