PLOT: A young man suspected of murdering his childhood sweetheart wakes up one morning with a pair of horns sprouting from his forehead. With this devilish addition he discovers he possesses the power to bring out the deepest and darkest secrets of those around him. With this, he attempts to uncover what exactly happened on that tragic night his love was killed.
What if one day you woke up with an embodiment of evil sprouting from your head? That is exactly what happens in the latest fantasy horror comedy from Alexandre Aja (HAUTE TENSION, THE HILLS HAVE EYES). This occasionally sharp satire plays on the idea of a society who will quickly convict the innocent, and are desperately in need of fame whatever the consequence. And for much of the film, we are rewarded with an intriguing ride. Unfortunately it tends to collapse into a jumbled mess of religious symbolism and one frustratingly weak character reveal. Even still, with Daniel Radcliffe in the leading role, HORNS has moments of wit and thrills.
Radcliffe portrays Ig Perrish, a young and thoughtful man whom many believe raped and murdered his childhood girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). With only a handful of residents in the small town supporting him, including his brother Terry (Joe Anderson) and his childhood friend Lee Tourneau (Max Minghella), he is constantly under attack. Yet one morning after a brief fling with a local waitress named Glenna (Kelli Garner), he finds that two small horns are sprouting from his temples. And while Glenna doesnt seem to notice, she asks his permission to binge on a box of donuts all the while revealing her inner turmoil to the dumbstruck Ig.
Ig soon comes to the realization that the horns, continually growing each passing day, get the same reaction from those around him. While constantly followed by journalists asking about the death of his girlfriend, he easily convinces the scoop hungry reporters to beat the shit out of each other for an exclusive story. His new found power brings his pent up frustration a little release, yet when he begins to discover some mysterious elements to what really happened to Merrin, he uses it to try and discover who really killed Merrin no matter how horrible the revelation will be. Radcliffe is so good at dealing with the complexity of the role that the further he becomes this earthbound devil including the addition of snakes he is able to bring sympathy and understanding to the character.
As a fan of Aja, it was nice to see the director explore many of the same themes that are brought up in the original novel by Joe Hill. And while Keith Bunins screenplay remains true to much of it, a few changes are made that were a tad frustrating. Remaining as vague as possible, when the truth of what took place is revealed, it is such a strange and sudden emotional transformation for one character that it makes for an exasperating watch. In the source material there is a deeper explanation and it makes more sense. Of course, approaching this more as a whodunit, they had to change things a bit, so it is understandable why they went the route they did.
Once again, what success there is with HORNS is heavily due to Radcliffe. Since his HARRY POTTER days, he continues to grow and challenge himself as an actor, and he is terrific here. His ability to bring a strong emotional layer to this character is damned impressive. Ig is a fascinating guy, so amiable that it is almost hard to believe an entire town would think he was a murderer of course that happens in real life far too often. It was especially great to see Radcliffe opposite the fantastic David Morse who portrays Merrins grieving father. Their scenes together are so potent that you almost wish more of the focus had been on the two of them.
Aside from Radcliffe, there are a number of interesting performances here. Joe Anderson is one of the most underrated talents working today, and this is no exception. As Igs older brother, he adds a layer of intensity and empathy to Terry who may or may not be keeping secrets. And then there is Juno Temple. While her story is told in flashbacks, she is mysterious and beautiful bringing such a glow to Merrin. One scene leading up to her death is so utterly potent for her and Radcliffe that you cant help but feel for the two. Heather Graham is also quite good and absolutely stunning as a waitress who seems to know a whole lot about the events leading up to Merrins death. When HORNS places focus on the characters as opposed to the horrific elements, surprisingly it was far more involving.
Ajas take on HORNS is a unique experience. It is possibly one of his most mature features and isnt nearly as bloody as he usually gets aside from a couple sequences including a nasty bit with a gunshot to the head. Yet when the devilish references turn literal with a ton of CG, it isnt nearly as effective as it could have been. Thankfully, it is grounded enough by Radcliffe and the rest of the cast to be a sometimes thought-provoking experience. HORNS is a mixed bag of treats that offers up a great leading man and a few compelling ideas. Not Ajas best work, but perhaps his most ambitious and therefore worth a watch for fans.
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