Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson
It certainly isn’t hard to see what audience director Alexandre Aja is trying to pander towards with Horns. With an opening shot of a mountain surrounded, dew-covered small town setting that’s accompanied with a moody, plot paraphrasing narration, you’d be forgiven for momentarily worrying that you had actually stumbled upon yet another addition to the Twilight Saga. It’s not… thankfully. Although to like it feels just as iniquitous. For Horns is a film riddled with inconsistencies and missed opportunities, yet it’s also one that’s hard not to enjoy.
The aforementioned and frankly unnecessary vocal descriptions belong to Ig (Daniel Radcliffe), a young man with a lot on his plate. Not only has the love of his life been murdered, but also he is the sole suspect, and though he insists he didn’t do it everyone, bar his best friend Lee (Max Minghella), believes that he did. However, when Ig awakens one morning to find that a pair of protrusions has sprouted from his forehead, things begin to go from bad to worse.
Bolstering the film is yet another superb turn from Daniel Radcliffe (replete with a consistently convincing American accent), who is fast becoming one of the most exciting and diverse actors of his generation. Embracing the dark side with demonic glee, the former boy wizard slithers through scenes with viciously venomous intent, as Ig discovers that his horns have the power to force people to confess the truth to him. Radcliffe adds great balance to the role and indeed the film, conjuring laughs and shocks as he gradually transforms from a daunted and desperate human to a cocky and confident devil in disguise.
Throughout, the film’s satanic glare burns bright. Screenwriter Keith Bunin, adapting the film from Joe (son of Stephen King) Hill’s novel, lights the atmosphere with darkly twisted humour that satirically swipes at our species’ immoral nature. A group of journalists, who shadow Ig wherever he goes, literally try to rip each other to shreds in order to have an interview opportunity with him in one particularly hilarious scene. And there’s great relish from Heather Graham as a wicked waitress with a narcissistic lust for fame.
It’s almost a sin in itself that such good material is smited by Aja, who never seems certain as to what he wants his film to be. The script’s sardonic edge is belied and then entirely dismissed by a weighty narrative that’s irritatingly predictable, stays far longer than its welcome, and descends into a cloyingly conventional tale of letting go that eventually perishes with some ropey CGI.
Such shaky storytelling leads to a frustratingly inconsistent tone that’s emphasized through a steady stream of missed opportunities. What could have been a decent black comedy of our thirst to succeed by hook or by crook soon transforms into a murder mystery that’s light on thrills and heavy on sensationalist dialogue. Juno Temple meanwhile, another superb up-and-coming actress, is reduced to being nothing more than an ethereal version of the character we’ve seen her play on more than a few other occasions.
It all has a deeply unsatisfying waft of a director ironically choosing illustrious box-office takings over creative integrity. The trendy soundtrack that’s tacked on simply feeling like another hook for the more matured teen market. They will no doubt lap it all up. But for the rest of us, Horns isn’t likely to transport us to any kind of cinematic heaven. Although its occasionally wicked nature and Radcliffe’s devilish performance make it a sinful pleasure.