I went into Horns without any preconceived notions or ideas. While I had heard of the movie, the details flew greatly under my radar. I knew that the movie was based on a book by Joe Hill, son of the Great Stephen King, and starred Daniel Radcliffe as a man who suddenly sprouts horns from his head – but that was pretty much it.
As the film’s entertaining mystery unfolded across the screen, I was very pleasantly surprised. Was it a perfect movie? Not at all. However, Horns hit plenty of marks to make it an entertaining film worth watching.
Radcliffe stars as Ig Parrish, the lone suspect in the violent murder of his childhood sweetheart and long-time girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple). As advertised, Parrish wakes up after a particularly rough night with a pair of horns poking right out of his head – horns that only “bad” people can see, though they quickly forget the horns are even there. Quickly it’s revealed that people around Parrish suddenly feel the need to ask his permission to engage in sinful delights. Not all are diabolical, per se, but for the most part they engage in acts that are definitely beyond what is considered socially acceptable. Whatever his response, they take it as an order (for better or worse).
The horns have another side effect, too, causing anyone around Ig to spout horrible truths better left unsaid. Because of this, the scene in where Ig returns home to his mother to ask for advice is absolutely horrible and heartbreaking. But once Ig realizes that people have no choice but to be honest and follow his command, he decides to use his new found powers to uncover the truth behind Merrin’s brutal murder.
Radcliffe gives the best performance of his (short) career in this film. His ability to bring the audience into the story and evoke feelings of desperation, loss, and pain was a real treat – and his American accent was dead on. Horns was a perfect vehicle to show what Radcliffe is capable of and it allows him to finally shrug off that Harry Potter persona.
Juno Temple is excellent as Merrin and she really manages to make the audience fall in love with her, hate her, and – eventually – pity her. The story of Ig and Merrin’s relationship goes all the way back to their childhood and is told throughout the movie. The child actors standing in for Ig and Merrin do a wonderful job, as does the supporting cast who play the friends Ig and Merrin have known all their lives, and the audience gets to experience those characters growing over the course of the film.
Director Alexandre Aja has plenty of experience in helming creepier fare, such as 2003’s High Tension and 2008’s Mirrors. Unfortunately, while he has written and directed in the genre for years, he still doesn’t have a unique style that sets him apart from the multitude of other horror filmmakers. There are scenes of beautiful tension that play out perfectly because of his choice in camera position. One scene in particular in where an accident in a river leads to a deadly situation for a child stands out as wonderfully executed. His handling of Merrin’s death scene is also something to commend. All of that being said, Aja’s lack of a signature style keeps the movie from evolving into what could have been a horror classic.
Another stumbling block for Horns is the story itself. I can only assume that the novel delves a bit deeper into the reasoning behind the horns, but there really is no explanation given in the movie. The movie could be read as an allegory for releasing the demon inside in order to become pure, but that may just be me thinking a bit too deeply about it. Whether the reasoning for the horns was simply lost in the translation or was never fully explained in the source material, the issue is never directly addressed in the film. Sure, there is a scene that involves a minor desecration but it’s nothing that would inspire the curse Ig receives. (Then again, I’m not the one who makes those rules.)
Ignoring the horns altogether, another issue comes with the film’s mystery. I won’t spoil it here, but you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. If the story behind the horns had been sharpened a bit, it would be easy to forgive the formulaic ending to the story; vice versa, if the mystery had been deeper, the horns could have been forgiven. As it turns out, however, both sides are a bit weak, so neither part of the story could lean on the other. Sadly, this results in a movie that never has the chance to grow into its potential.
As mentioned, Horns does have quite a bit that makes it very entertaining. The concept is unusual, the acting is superb, and the ending may surprise you – despite the straightforward mystery. All in all, while it will never become a horror classic, Horns is worth the watch. And with Halloween right around the corner, you have the perfect excuse to check it out.