“Leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth as the credits roll!”
Based on the successful 2010 Joe Hill (the son of horror maestro Stephen King) novel of the same name, Horns tells the tale of Ig (Daniel Radcliffe), a young man who, upon waking from a drunken stupor, finds himself accused of the murder of his lifelong love Merrin (Juno Temple). Shunned by the local community, a childhood friend (Max Minghella) attempts to clear Ig’s name in the courts while Ig only falls further into despair and the bottle – until one morning he begins to sprout a pair of bony horns from his temples. Despite his shock at this new unnerving development, Ig soon comes to realise that people in his presence have started to freely tell him their deepest desires and secrets, and so he resolves to use this new dark gift to piece together the night of his girlfriend’s death and discover the identity of the real killer.
It was always going to be a bit of a task to really translate the Joe Hill novel to the big screen. The strange mix of fantasy, romance, metaphysics, dark comedy and horror that works so well in the original source is not something easily juggled, and it has to be said that, for around the first hour at least, director Alexandre Aja does a reasonable job. Using flashbacks to tell of the love affair between the reckless Ig and the beautiful and gentle Merrin from children to adults is effective, if a little sickly sweet at times, and both Radcliffe and Temple work well enough together to make the romance believable enough. It has to be said that despite his many naysayers, Radcliffe has a fair crack at portraying Ig and, despite being a bit wet at times, he certainly does enough to not take you out of the moment as he continues to slowly but surely shake that Harry Potter tag. The use of flashbacks to set up Ig’s childhood friendships certainly does its job too, but where Horns really works at its best is with the dark humour found in Ig’s post-horn-growing effect on the people he encounters while he tries to piece together the puzzle of Merrin’s death. As they confess their darkest desires and secrets to an initially confused Ig and their sudden loss of inhibitions sees them carrying them out, it can be very funny to witness at times – a scene involving his doctor, a nurse, and some nitrous oxide in particular works very well and is a standout moment of the movie.
It’s a shame then that a lot of what’s good about Horns is lost by some poor storytelling in parts, an occasionally clunky script, an answer to the ‘whodunnit’ that is telegraphed so clearly that it can be seen from outer space (whether you’ve read the book or not) and the odd moment of over-egged acting – none more so than a truly terrible, wide-eyed and hideously over the top performance from Heather Graham as a waitress on the make. It’s the film’s transition to bad CGI-filled snakes and monster nonsense in its awkward closing act that really lets it all down. Poorly realised at best and smacking of Aja losing faith in what has come before, it really does feel that he has opted to go for a dumbed-down ‘popcorn-friendly’ conclusion instead. Studio pressure may have had its hand in this perhaps, but either way it certainly leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth as the credits roll.
Horns is a film of two parts. Unfortunately in the end it’s two parts that make an unsatisfying and overall pretty disappointing whole.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella
Release date: 29 October 2014
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