Movie Marketing Madness: Hard Candy

First off let me state this very clearly: There is nothing at all entertaining about older men luring young girls to meetings after seducing them on the internet. It’s a tragedy and one of the biggest of the “boo!” fears about the online world that parents and others fret over constantly.

That, though, is the premise of Hard Candy. Teenaged Hayley meets 30-something Jeff online and the two eventually agree to meet in person at a local coffeehouse. Jeff takes her back to his apartment and the stage is set for all those fears and concerns to come to pass with Jeff taking advantage of Hayley. That’s not quite the case as Hayley winds turning the tables on Jeff and trying to right his past wrongs.

The Poster

The image used for the poster is stark and a bit disquieting, if a tad obvious. A lone girl, Hayley presumably, stands in the middle of an over-sized bear trap. The image is effective for the use of a red hooded sweatshirt that immediately evokes Little Red Riding Hood and the whole cautionary message that the fairy tale contains. Standing in the middle of the bear trap without it snapping is also significant and should give tuned-in viewers a clue as to the twist the movie has in store for them.

I say it’s a tad obvious because the “innocent in the red hood” angle is a bit stale but that’s all. The combination of that with the unsprung trap more than makes up for that overused metaphorical image, though.

The Trailer

This trailer will freak you out, especially if you have kids. The basic plot is setup nicely, with the trailer actually opening on an instant-message conversation the two characters are having. It then progresses to their meeting in the coffee shop and then to Hayley taking an ill-advised trip with Jeff back to his apartment. Everything seems to be progressing according to Jeff’s twisted plan until Hayley discovers a series of photographs that are disturbing of young girls being hurt. It’s then that Jeff starts to realize the world is crashing in around him as this young girl winds up manipulating him and not the other way around. It’s also in that last 40 or 50 seconds that the trailer kind of falls apart. It’s got a nice level of tension built up and then loses it with a series of too-quick cuts and images that go by too fast. The editors probably that would increase the uncomfortableness of the audience but what it really does is suck the momentum out of the trailer. Still, that first 1:30 or so is good.

The Website

The website opens with an IM conversation much like – if not actually pulled from – the one that provides the launching point for the movie’s plot. That goes on over the image of the movie’s poster and some other shots in the background. It’s a great way to immediately immerse the viewer in the world of the movie. That conversation continues and evolves as you stay on the site and pops up especially after long periods of inactivity.

When you get into the actual content you see that there’s a lot that’s standard to all movie websites and some that’s a bit more interesting. “The Film” plays it strictly by the numbers with a Synopsis, Production Notes and a Cast list that unfortunately doesn’t provide any biographies or filmographies of the actors or crew. “Image Gallery” contains nine or so stills, most of which are pulled from scenes that also appear in the trailer. The section titled “Trailers and Clips” is really just the trailer so it’s kind of mis-labeled. “Downloads” says it contains Wallpaper, AIM Icons and downloads for iPods and PSPs but the latter two are still tagged as “coming soon” so Wallpaper is all you’ll find there for now.

“Experience” pulls the viewer into the film a bit more. Click on one of the four photographs on the wall and interact with the environment a bit as you click strewn photos and other objects in the scenes to spur things along. It’s pretty interesting and gives you a bit of backstory on some of Jeff’s other victims. “Reviews” is exactly what it sounds like, with blurb-quotes from a number of reviewers, including Eric Campos at FilmThreat. You can win a trip with friends to see the movie as well as a couple other runner-up prizes after clicking on “Promotions.” There’s also a “Messageboard” where you can discuss the movie or other Lionsgate films. Finally there’s the “Surf Safe – Wear Red ” public awareness campaign that’s been launched in conjunction with the movie. It encourages people to wear a red hooded sweatshirt to raise awareness of sexual predatation, especially on the internet.

Overall

It’s a good campaign that contains a lot of imagery and content that’s going to be alternately engrossing and disturbing. The concept of sexual predators and their habits is disconcerting to say the least to all parents and a movie with that as its central plot conceit is going to be a hard sell. What Lionsgate has done is play up the movie as a psychological thriller, regardless of plot points. Two people meet, one isn’t quite what they seem to be. It’s a standard plot. The campaign gives away just enough of the twist in the roles played by the two characters to intrigue audiences I think. It was also important, because of the subject matter, that the twist of Hayley being the one whose motivation is questionable makes the movie more palettable for parents in the audience. If they can be told that the movie will not just make the young girl the victim then it’s going to be an easier sell to that group.