Horns Review

Posted: January 24, 2015 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Usually when I walk away from a movie after having just watched it for the first time, I manage to formulate an overall opinion of it fairly quickly. Every once in a while, though, there’s that oddball film that throws so much stuff at me, that I find myself suffocating from the amount of things being thrown at the screen to see what sticks, and thus stumble away desperately trying to make sense of it all. On that note, let’s talk about Horns, the new horror black comedy adapted from the novel of the same name by Joe Hill. For the longest time after watching it back in October of last year, I couldn’t really make heads or tails of it; there were aspects of it that I found pretty interesting and well-done, but then others that simply stuck out as just plain odd and headscratching in their strangeness. In the time since, I took it upon myself to read the novel, and that helped to put things into perspective for me. The point I’m trying to make here is this: if a film leaves you so confused as to what you thought of it that you find yourself having to go and read the source material to help nail your opinion down, then odds are, the movie isn’t exactly a winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Horns concerns a young man named Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), whose girlfriend Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) was brutally raped and murdered sometime before the beginning of the film. Naturally, the people of Ig’s small town home community believes he did it, despite his repeated assurances of his innocence, and matters aren’t made any better for him due to the lack of evidence in his favor. The only ones on his side are his parents (James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan), brother Terry (Joe Anderson) and best friend Lee (Max Minghella). It’s all reached the point where Ig usually has to spend his nights getting wasted to help him cope with all the accusations. But one morning, upon waking up to his latest hangover, Ig discovers the sudden and mysterious appearance of strange protrusions growing from his forehead. A quick bit of investigating reveals those protrusions to be gradually-growing horns, but that’s not even the strangest part. The weirder fact about these horns is that they possess the ability to make anybody in Ig’s immediate vicinity to give in to their deepest, darkest desires, most of the time in the form of confessions that are wildly inappropriate and insane, or just downright hurtful. However, Ig soon discovers that he can twist this newfound power of his to his advantage by using the horns to interrogate possible suspects in Merrin’s murder and take revenge on them. With each painfully honest encounter, though, the horns make Ig question if they’re slowly robbing him of his humanity.

By now, I’m well aware that it’s clichéd like hell to say that the book is better than the movie, but it really is true in the case of Horns. The premise is very interesting, and quite original, but there’s also an inherent balancing act of horror, drama and pitch-black comedy that has to be carefully handled in order for it to work. Joe Hill, who happens to be the son of Stephen King, navigated that blend of genres quite well in the novel, knowing when and how to use each element the most effectively, making for a more well-defined story. By contrast, director Alexandre Aja and screenwriter Keith Bunin seem to only have a surface-level understanding of the story. The film is certainly faithful to the book, but even then, it feels like something got lost in translation. Ultimately, what we have here is a movie with a very muddled tone, to the point where, most of the time, it feels like we’re watching two or three different kinds of films duking it out for screentime, and to make matters worse, none of them are all that good. It’s been said a million times, but what difference does a million and one make: you’re better off reading the book.

There are a few things Horns gets right, though, and the main one is the acting from its star, Daniel Radcliffe. Ever since graduating from the Harry Potter franchise, Radcliffe has seemed dead-set on leaving that image of himself behind, and this movie certainly helps in that regard. Not only is the character of Ig Perrish very far-removed from that of the bespectacled young wizard, it’s also a role that allows Radcliffe to really show off his acting chops, something which he dives right into. Radcliffe conveys all of the right emotions at just the right moments throughout the film, turning Ig into a pretty interesting and sympathetic character. In fact, the scenes that relate exclusively to Ig’s character development are definitely another area where this movie really shines. Most importantly, though, Daniel Radcliffe is very convincing in the role, and it serves as proof that he can display quite the range of acting if given strong material. The rest of the cast, by comparison, is pretty hit and miss. Juno Temple is probably the second strongest actor here, and Max Minghella can be interesting to watch as the movie goes on, but the performances from the rest of the actors feel just as ill-defined as the script and direction.

The confused tone is this film’s biggest offense, but I will still give credit to the script for the flashback scenes that focus on Ig and Merrin’s relationship. While these flashbacks admittedly interrupt the flow of the film at first, they eventually become more natural and interesting — even more interesting than the main mystery most of the time. Whenever those scenes aren’t playing out, however, Horns is this weird seesaw game of tone that’s hard to go along with. This film needed a director who’s gifted at combining different genres, and I don’t think Alexandre Aja is one of those directors. To put it bluntly, Aja continuously overcompensates one way or the other, whether he’s trying to partake in the absurdity and/or off-kilter nature that comes about from the horns — none of which is all that funny — or just trying to scare you by using typical horror genre tricks. The climax leans heavily on special/splatter effects, and it simply feels to be in sharp contrast with most of the movie. On the other hand, Aja deserves credit for getting some good shots and camera angles in here and there.

Back to the central mystery, though, one of the things I loved about the book was that in it, Ig finds out who the real killer is in the tenth chapter of a fifty-chapter book. Given the premise, that’s actually clever and makes sense, but the movie draws out the mystery much more, and even though there’s half an hour still left by the time the revelation comes, by then, it’s not much of a mystery anymore. It also turns the film into more of a “whodunit?” whereas the book approached this as a personal and ultimately redemptive journey for Ig, which was honestly a more interesting angle.

Horns is more miscalculated than it is awful, and while it shows streaks of goodness every now and then, those streaks are overshadowed by a confused and uneven narrative. With a better director and script, this could’ve been something more instead of a mediocre experience.


  1. Dan O. says:

    Good review Michael. Nice to see Aja try something different. Even if it doesn’t always work out perfectly.

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