Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson
Rated: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use
Daniel Radcliffe is doing a good job of distancing himself from his Harry Potter days. In “Horns,” he plays an American man who finds himself acquiring strange powers after his community becomes convinced he murdered his girlfriend. Based on the book by Joe Hill, the film is a bit wobbly and inconsistent, but it’s worth seeing if you don’t mind its slide from dark comedy into visceral and violent horror.
Merrin (Juno Temple) was everything to Ig (Radcliffe), and when she turns up dead and everyone assumes Ig did it, he’s heartbroken and angry. He wants to find the killer so he can avenge Merrin and clear his own name. This becomes a bit easier when he wakes up to find himself sprouting horns and having the ability to prompt confessions out of almost anyone. Along the way, we get flashbacks to various times and of various lengths to give us the story of Ig and Merrin’s childhood together, the love they shared, and exactly why everyone thinks Ig killed her.
There’s a thread of dark humor through the film, humor that slides very easily into horror as Ig finds himself hearing confessions he’d really rather not (especially the dark secrets his parents tell him) and finds himself able to do more than just bring out the devil in people around him. This is not a movie for people who can’t handle folks talking about and then acting on their basest instincts.
The production values of “Horns” are spectacular – the setting is lush and vibrant, a small industrial town bordering an enormous old growth forest, and the cinematography makes it almost possible to smell the trees. The special effects, especially the titular horns, are mostly very good and used sporadically. We already know Radcliffe is a skilled actor, and the rest of the cast turn in good performances as well. It’s actually pretty fun to see the fellow we know as Harry Potter playing an adult who’s a hard-drinking loser his hometown despises. Radcliffe is all grown up now, and this movie really drives that home.
Where “Horns” runs a bit off the rails is in its plot construction. It’s pretty easy to spot Merrin’s real killer if you’re paying attention, and the film’s last act in particular turns up the supernatural element to eleven. It’s never really explained how the magical powers that appear in the film are bestowed – there are hints here and there, but it’s never satisfactorily explained and isn’t always particularly consistent.
It also includes an unnecessarily long, graphic rape and brutal violence that turns what could have been a dark supernatural comedy into a genuine horror movie. Worse, the rape is presented late in the film, in flashback, as if to remind us of how evil the killer is. Apparently Hill and director Alexandre Aja don’t think that killing someone painfully is bad enough to make the murderer deserve the vengeance that’s coming to him. The more movies that come out using rape as a plot device to motivate characters, the less patience I have for this trope.
Overall, “Horns” is worth seeing if you’re looking for a film that starts out as a dark comedy and ends as a horror flick. Sensitive viewers may be lulled into a false sense of security by the first half of the film, but should be braced for the second half, and are probably better off seeing something else.