Horns (2014) Review

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Now, I’ll begin this by saying that I am a big fan of Joe Hill. He’s a writer with a style that I admire, and his stories are so comically dark and psychotic that I can’t help but get caught up in their effortless cool. When I heard that Horns, Hill’s second novel (after the excellent Heart Shaped Box), was being adapted to screen, with Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe playing the lead role of Ig, I was a little, shall we say, unsure of how to react. I like Radcliffe, but wasn’t sure he fit the image that my own mind had created for the main character in the Hill dark-fantasy-horror novel. Still, I was excited, and when I saw the trailer a few months ago, I was pretty damn happy to see that it looked like it could be a faithful and enjoyable film. Fast-forward, and it’s October, and I’ve finally had a chance to watch the film.

Directed by Alexandre Aja, the Frenchman who made the acclaimed horror film High Tension (Switchblade Romance), the Hills Have Eyes remake, Mirrors and Piranha 3D. A horror director whose work I have enjoyed was a good sign, and I was pleased to see some of the names joining Radcliffe on the cast side of things. Juno Temple (Killer Joe), Kelli Garner (Lars & The Real Girl), Max Minghella (The Social Network), Joe Anderson (The Grey) and Heather Graham (Boogie Nights), among others, make up a very talented gathering of performers, and so the board was all set up for a potentially dark, funny, sinister and heart-breaking film of love, loss, revenge and redemption, and my excitement level was at a high as the opening credits began.

The story of Horns follows Ig Perrish (Radcliffe), a young man who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, Merrin (Temple) in cold blood. His protests of innocence fall on deaf ears, as the town and its people refuse to listen to Ig’s pleas that he had no part in the death of the girl he loved. After a night drinking and finding comfort in the arms of a girl he has no deep feelings for, but whose familiarity brings a sense of security to him, Glenna (Garner), Ig wakes up and, after peering into a bathroom mirror, sees that his forehead has sprouted horns at each of his temples. Ig is disturbed by his new found cranial appendages, though even more disturbed to find that people who he speaks to don’t seem to be at all bothered by them. They tell him that they can see the horns, but in a matter of fact manner. Before long, Ig begins to find that the people he interacts with unleash their inner thoughts to him, without hesitancy, and often those thoughts regard Ig himself, and how they wish him to be dead, arrested, for him to disappear, leave town, or even commit suicide. There is only one person whom Ig feels he can count on, his childhood friend, and lawyer in his case regarding Merrin’s death, Lee (Minghella). We follow Ig as he battles his demons and comes face to face with the feelings of those around him, including those he thought of as friends, and his family. As Ig’s life goes into a tailspin, and his horns grow heftier and heavier, he begins to find answers to the questions he is asking. Who is truly responsible for Merrin’s death, and how can he clear his name?

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My concern over Daniel Radcliffe playing Ig Perrish was extinguished within a few minutes of watching the film. His performance had subtlety and fury, all in the right places, and his heartbreak and frustration over the things happening to him, and the loss of the most beautiful thing to ever happen to him, is realised wonderfully. Radcliffe, here, has shown a true leap as an actor, a step into real adult territory, in a movie filled with violence, gore, bad language and heavy iconography that will offend and excite, depending on your views. Oh, and that reminds me, the Christian mythology which was heavily found in Joe Hill’s novel is here in spades, with the flickering crucifix adorning Merrin’s neck, the snakes that slither over Ig’s shoulder, and the horns that are, undoubtedly, a character unto themselves in the story. It was a relief to see things that I found important in the book used in the film, things both large and small that helped make the story such a weird and wonderful tale of darkness and love. It is also worth noting that Hill himself likes how the film turned out, and has fully endorsed the telling of his tale and the performances by the actors inside it. Excellent. The adapted screenplay, written by Keith Bunin, is faithful and well done, and it’s a breath of load of my back, as a fan of the source material, to hear the words written on Hill’s pages spoken by the characters on screen.

I was unsure how certain sequences would work on screen, for instance; the flashbacks to Ig, Lee, Terry, Merrin and Glenna as children. These worked out really well, and I though the casting was really well done in these instances. The love between Ig and Merrin was a major factor too. It was, in my mind, truly vital to the story that Ig and Merrin appeared to have a love that was deep, real and intense, though troubled beneath its surface. The chemistry needed to work, or the whole thing would fall apart. I feel like Radcliffe and Temple managed to do this. Their screen-time together wasn’t exactly momentous, but the time that they did appear together was well done, and I believed in their history together. There was little negative I found in the performances across the board. Everyone did a great job in their roles, though I do still think that some viewers will have a tough time seeing Radcliffe as anyone other than Harry Potter. His boy-wizard is engrained in him, and it will take a long time before he sheds that skin, but here, in Horns, he has made a good step in moving on from his hugely successful and popular fantasy hero, to create films in which he stands apart. Aja’s work in the horror genre was certainly something that came in handy here. The dark and horrific elements to the story were vital, and Aja brought about some fine gore, and some intense brutality. This was very nice to see, and I think audiences will be surprised at how extreme things get at times.

There is a bunch of British acting talent here, with Radcliffe, Temple, Minghella and Anderson all being from London, and they all do a decent enough job at using America accents, though I couldn’t help but hear little twinges of Londonite when Minghella spoke now and then. Still, they deserve credit for sounding authentic here, and I was very impressed with Radcliffe’s passionate and unrelenting work in bringing Ig Perrish to the screen.

My worry about Horns being an awful adaptation were unnecessary, and at the end of the day I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the film. Aja’s direction was stylish and dark, and the performances from everyone was great. I’m not sure how well this will do at the box-office, but it would be a shame to see it do badly, considering how good it is. It’s funny, it’s fucked-up, and it’s a ton of blistering, boiling, slithering fun. Fans of the book should be very pleased by the faithfulness to the novel, and fans of horror and fantasy should enjoy the originality and schizophrenic terror that occurs, time and again, in the two hours that the film exists. I recommend this one, for sure.

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