Horns is based on the novel by Joe Hill. It stars Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Perrish, broken-hearted young man who is believed by everyone in town to have raped and murdered his girlfriend, Merrin Williams. Things get weird when he awakens after a night of serious drinking with horns beginning to grow out of his forehead.
Written by Keith Bunin (In Treatment) and directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), Horns is a deeply disturbed, bleakly funny and frequently scary little film that gives Radcliffe another quality role.
Ig (short for Ignatius) might be forgiven for drinking himself into the occasional stupor – since his girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple, Killer Joe, The Three Musketeers) was found brutally raped and murdered he has endured an almost overwhelming amount of grief from virtually everyone in town. Almost everyone is certain that he killed her – with the possible exceptions of his parents and the one friend he has left, Lee Tourneau (Max Minghella, The Mindy Project), who is also his lawyer. His brother Terry (Joe Anderson, The River, Hercules) says he believes him but he’s usually strung out so it’s hard to believe him.
After a particularly bad night, Ig wakes up with a horrible headache and itchy forehead. When he looks in the mirror, he sees the beginnings of a pair of horns sprouting. Freaked out, he visits his doctor, who also sees them and – for some strange reason – begins unloading his darkest secrets on Ig.
Ig, being hungover but not stupid, makes the connection and begins to think he can use this new ability to help him find Merrin’s killer. Subsequent encounters with other townspeople get up his nose so much that he finally reacts in a manner that reveals a new power – he can make people do things against their will (or maybe, just remove their inhibitions so that they do things they would never consciously dream of doing).
A highlight of the film comes when he commands a horde of reporters to fight until there’s only one left and he’ll give the winner an interview. Another comes when he discovers what his parents really think.
In a series of flashbacks that serve as a counterpoint to Ig’s present misery, we see his relationship with Merrin develop. It’s a straightforward romantic story that shows us how much he loved her – and she him – and gives added depth to what Ig is going through now.
Another interesting point is that neither Lee nor Merrin’s father (David Morse, Drive Angry, Treme) can see Ig’s horns – something he takes to mean that they have no darkness in them, save for whatever pain has been caused by Merrin’s death. It’s also clear just how betrayed Mr. Williams feels by the man he once treated like his own son.
Inevitably, things come to a head in the most unexpected manner – unless you’ve read the book, of course. Bunin’s script rearranges the timeline of the book’s event but doesn’t actually invent anything major. The book’s tone(s) are faithfully, if not slavishly, maintained – the humor is mostly grim, the ironies slightly more pointed and the finale probably bloodier.
The idea that Ig seems to be becoming the devil in his search for truth has several analogs in the real world, but none are pointed to directly. The idea of the treehouse where he and Merrin spent some of the happiest times of their lives being the site of her murder is comparable to being cast out of Eden.
Aja does a great job of taking a story that has several different tones and both capturing them and weaving them together in a way that makes them feel of a piece. Instead of Horns feeling like it’s all over the map, it feels like a single journey with stops at interesting places on the road to its final destination.
Radcliffe continues to grow as an actor. He makes Ig’s progression through Horns feel organic. Ina nice touch – that echoes the book – he doesn’t always get maximum use out of his odd new abilities because, being humans, sometimes he forgets he can do stuff. He may look like he’s turning into a demon, but he remains very human throughout.
Temple brings an intelligence and warmth to Merrin. We can see how anyone might fall madly in love with her – and, as a result, we can see why Ig is so tortured when everyone thinks he killed her.
Minghella and Morse also give memorable performances, but Heather Graham (The Hangover, Californication) steals the few scenes she’s in as a diner waitress who has big plans to cash in on lying about what happened the night Merrin was murdered.
The effects work – practical and CG – is really good, too. Those horns look very good and the near apocalyptic finale is well realized.
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Photos courtesy of Dimension Films/VVS Films