Daniel Radcliffe began his career as a boy wizard, but in Horns, Alexandre Aja’s cheeky, mostly successful adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel, he’s one hell of a man — quite literally, as his Ig Parrish grows a pair of monstrous devil’s horns one day after being accused of his girlfriend’s murder. When the horns grant him unique powers (everyone he comes in contact with either reveals their deepest secrets to him or enacts on their most perverse whims) Ig decides to solve the mystery of his beloved Merrin’s (Juno Temple) death once and for all.
Horns is an unexpected and delightful oddity. It’s as far from Aja’s earlier films as one can get — there’s gore, but none of the vicious brutality of his High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes, and there’s black comedy, but it’s not as willfully trashy as that in his Piranha 3D. Horns isn’t even really a horror film as it’s advertised as. It’s a film defiant of easy classification, a rarity in this day and age, holding no allegiance to any conventional form. At best it’s actually a dark fantasy, a sex and blood dipped Harry Potter, with deep, bold splashes of horror, dark comedy, drama and even moon-struck romance swirled in; every moment of the film, you have no idea where it’s going to go next, and Aja has playful fun surprising and shocking us as he goes along, with the sole exception being that the central mystery is pitifully easy to predict. (Caveat: I say this as someone who hasn’t read the book; those who have, may have a different reaction.)
In lesser hands, a film like Horns could’ve been a mess — an incoherent jumble of conflicting tones and ideas that never gel into a singular whole. Aja, however, has matured into a solid journeyman genre director, and he keeps the tonal shifts smooth and coherent — he is telling a story that is complex and multilayered and capable of shifting gear on a dime. It’s a marvelous high wire act, held together by a terrific Radcliffe, who fully embodies the tormented, grief-stricken Ig. Radcliffe is getting better with each movie, and he’s aided along by a great supporting cast of awesome character actors like James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan and David Morse (the latter of whom Radcliffe gets to share an emotionally devastating scene with, hammering home the fact this film is better than it’s schlocky and offbeat premise suggests.) The one actor given short-shrift here, however, is Temple; she’s fine, as always, but the role is more of an idealized romantic totem for the heart-broken Ig than it is a fully developed character.
Horns isn’t perfect. It does suffer from some clunky plotting and at two hours, it has severe pacing issues, with some scenes dragging, and the central mystery failing to be as involving as the wackiness that surrounds it. (This is especially daunting in the second half as the film devotes more and more time to the question of who killed Merrin.) Still, Horns is offbeat, original and bizarre, a true oddity on a milquetoast release schedule. It ain’t perfect, but it’s worth checking out for fans of idiosyncratic psychotronic cinema.
3.5 out of 5 stars