Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a thirty-two-year-old photographer, and when he’s not taking pictures of underage girls for a living, he’s picking them up through the internet. His newest online prey is fourteen-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page), who agrees to go back to his house and pose for him. Unfortunately for Jeff, Hayley is not as sweet and innocent as she seems; she’s out for blood—and other parts of his anatomy.
One of the aspects of the film that’s done well is its unpredictability; the two main characters are untrustworthy—the viewer is unsure of Hayley and Jeff’s identities from one moment to the next. Is Jeff a pedophile? Is Hayley a sociopath? Worth noting are the excellent performances, particularly by Page. Hayley is brilliant yet insane, at times vulnerable but always with a cheeky comeback to Jeff’s arguments. The film is dialogue-driven like a play but full of interesting quotes, like the following, edited slightly to reduce spoilers.
Jeff Kohlver: You’re getting yourself in terrible trouble.
Hayley Stark: Oh? Oh, and how’s that?
Jeff Kohlver: If you [hurt] me in any way, you won’t forget it. It changes you when you hurt somebody.
Hayley Stark: Oh, and you speak from experience, I guess.
Jeff Kohlver: I’ve just lived. Unlike you. The things you do wrong… they haunt you.
Hayley Stark: Tell me what you’re haunted by.
Jeff Kohlver: Do you wanna remember this day when you’re with a guy? On a date? On your wedding night? ‘Cause I promise you, you will. Don’t do that to yourself.
Hayley Stark: Wow… You know, that is so thoughtful! You are speaking to me so selflessly! I mean, you just don’t want me to [hurt] you for my own benefit? Wow, I’m touched. Jeff, why don’t we imagine someone saying the same thing to you at a random moment? Imagine that when you downloaded this little girl… I was sitting by your side, saying, “Stop, don’t do that to yourself.” Would you have listened? “Stop. Don’t do that to yourself.”
Also interesting is the exploration of gender and control. Hayley has very short hair and at one point tries on Jeff’s glasses and jacket. She, despite her small stature (according to the heights reported by IMDB, Page is a full foot shorter than Wilson) and her sex, is completely in control of the situation, something Jeff is not used to—he’s used to manipulating young women. He is totally at Hayley’s mercy; as she tells him, “I’m gonna do what I want, Jeff.” In one scene he flies into a rage and tellingly stabs a picture of a woman in the crotch. Also explored is the question of what age a female matures—what separates a girl from a woman? As Hayley says:
‘She was so sexy. She was asking for it.’ ‘Oh, she was only technically a girl, she acted like a woman.’ It’s just so easy to blame a kid, isn’t it! Just because a girl knows how to imitate a woman does not mean she’s ready to do what a woman does.
I’ve seen this movie with a lot of guys, and they tend to side with Jeff eventually—why is best left unsaid for purposes of not revealing too much.