Early Review by Daniel Rester
Daniel Radcliffe used to walk around with a lightning bolt scar on his head in the Harry Potter films. Now he’s upgraded to a set of menacing horns in the aptly titled film Horns. What’s next, a second head or something? That would be interesting.
Horns comes to the silver screen from writer Keith Bunin and director Alexandre Aja, and is based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill. The film stars Radcliffe as Ig Perrish, a young man who many suspect murdered his girlfriend a year prior to the time period in the film. Things escalate when Ig awakens one morning after a drunken evening to find that he has two horns growing from his forehead. He soon finds out that the mysterious new protrusions make people want to reveal their deep and dark secrets to him. This ability leads him on a mission to unravel who really murdered Merrin (Juno Temple), his late girlfriend.
To say that Horns isn’t for everyone is almost an understatement. Many religious folks will be quickly turned off by it due to the central idea. But the film also comes with a feeling of instantly becoming a cult classic. I suspect many will be attracted to its strange mixings of horror, mystery, and romance. I was.
Aja, best known for hardcore horror films like High Tension (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), goes for material that is a bit different for him with this one. Radcliffe is in the same boat, taking on a role that is leagues away from his Potter comfort. Both pull off their tasks well.
Bunin’s script captures the spirit of Hill’s writing, at least according to Hill himself at this year’s Comic-Con International. The screenwriter is definitely in tune with the religious satire through the dialogue and symbols (snakes, crosses, devil references, etc.), and he allows the characters to seem real in this weird situation. But it’s Aja who really brings the sharp script to life when all is said and done.
With grim-looking Washington locations, handsome camerawork, snappy pacing, and a killer soundtrack (including David Bowie and The Pixies), Horns finds Aja delivering a slick style while never abandoning the story. The director handles the flashbacks, twists, and character arcs well, and he has a surprisingly graceful (and very welcoming) touch when it comes to the romance between Ig and Merrin. Though the main story thread of the murder mystery is somewhat familiar, Aja moves things in an involving and suspenseful way — so much so that you almost forget about the horns themselves.
The story calls for horror at times and it seems the director couldn’t help himself but to go overboard in this department. With a few deaths and one unexpected head explosion, Aja throws gore and an uncomfortable feeling at the screen from time to time. While these elements — aided by fine visual effects — are presented well, they feel a bit out of place and almost come across as hokey. Or maybe I’m just too desensitized. I don’t know. No matter the case, the horror elements blend unevenly with the rest of the material — providing some tonal shifts that are jarring.
The cast is up to the task with this one, with the only weak link coming from Heather Graham as a do-anything-for-fame waitress; this may more of the character being a type rather than Graham’s acting itself. Radcliffe leads everyone with his tour-de-force performance. This is a real game-changer, proving the actor still has weight in his acting abilities and that he is up for risk. Matching him is Temple, who adds a perfect amount of pathos with just the smallest looks. Rounding out the supporting players are James Remar (as Ig’s dad, Derrick), Joe Anderson (as Ig’s brother, Terry), Max Minghella (as Ig’s best friend, Lee), and David Morse (as Merrin’s father). All of them deliver terrific moments and bring color to their small but important roles.
Other than the offbeat horror, Horns also contains some sexual content that are potent but ultimately feel unneeded. Some story beats also feel formulaic, such as one that involves an old friend being in love with Ig. Also, why do the news crews interested in Ig suddenly disappear halfway through the film? And shouldn’t some religious nuts be going after him? I guess with a small and focused story you don’t have time for such things. Those are just some minor complaints I have for this odd beast of a film.
Horns is uneven and not fully successful. It will entertain some tastes but certainly not all. Aja and Radcliffe kept me invested throughout, though, and I found the film to be unique and memorable in the end. I say give it a chance when it releases this Halloween.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).
MPAA Rating: Currently no rating.
Runtime: 2 hours and 3 minutes
U.S. Release Date: October 31st, 2014.