(dir. Alexander Aja)
“Damn right they’re horns.”
Imagine you were to wake up one morning to find two horns growing out your head. Then imagine that those horns made everyone you talked to tell you their darkest desires, their secret sins. This is the situation Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself in in Alexander Aja’s Horns, based on the Joe Hill’s wonderfully imaginative and heart-breaking novel. Accused of murdering his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), Ig Perrish uses his newfound abilities to solve her murder, but each step he takes brings out more of the demon in him. Ig Perrish discovers there’s a fine line between salvation and damnation.
Daniel Radcliffe gives a terrific performance as Ig, capturing the character’s vulnerability, and later his mirth when his abilities are put into action. Ig is a sharp contrast to the clean cut heroes Radcliffe usually plays, but in some ways the performance feels more honest. His arc feels like a natural progression to the idea that sometimes it takes becoming a devil to do the right thing. Juno Temple delivers a solid performance as Merrin, but I wish she’d been given more to do as her story has been sadly truncated compared to the novel. The underrated Joe Anderson gives a memorable performance as Ig’s drug-addicted brother Terry, and once again I was reminded of the fact that he should be getting more roles. The weak-link in the cast is Max Mingella as Ig’s best friend Lee. His acting ability isn’t the problem, rather he was miscast in a role that demanded a presence he couldn’t deliver. As a result, one of the most important roles in the story falls flat and takes some of the wind out of the film.
As someone who loved Hill’s novel, I was admittedly concerned when Aja was chosen as the director. Make no mistake, I’m a fan of his work, but The Hills Have Eyes and Pirahna 3D didn’t give any indication that Aja was capable of handling the emotional honesty of Horns, which is far more fantasy than horror. But Aja delivers a beautiful looking film with a great sense of atmosphere (there’s an excellent contrast between the natural and unnatural). He also shines in the dramatic scenes (far more than in the scenes of horror, actually). There’s a flashback scene in a diner between Ig and Merrin that captures all the incredible emotional power of some of the best dramatic directors’ work. But for a director who has delivered some absolutely grotesque and shockingly brutal scenes, it’s surprising how tame the film is when compared to the book. Screenwriter, Keith Bunin’s take on the story is more humorous, but lacks the sense of unease and darkness that Ig confronts when faced with people’s unfiltered thoughts. Even with an R-rating, Horns feels surprisingly neutered at times, particularly for a film that isn’t a mass-market release that needs to cater to a wide-audience.
The major story beats of the novel are left mostly intact but Aja falters in the pacing, though this is also the fault of one-named editor, Baxter. Even at its two hour runtime, Horns feels rushed in places. The scenes are given very little room to breathe which dampens some of the emotional impact and character work. Parts of the film seem hastily cut together, and flashbacks are delivered in odd lumps that seem desperate to deliver exposition without attention to how those scenes fit within the narrative.
As a whole Horns is a pretty good film, that is a few cast and crew decisions away from being really good. Daniel Radcliffe delivers his best performance and if you’re a fan of his, the film is worth seeing for that reason alone. Horns is an incredibly imaginative take on body-horror and the morality play of genre films. While it doesn’t push itself far enough, Horns offers a unique, and memorable experiment with tone and the idea of redemption.