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Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: Horns

Horns Film Review


Horns has a killer hook: Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is public enemy number one in his small town after his much-loved late girlfriend is raped and murdered with him as the prime suspect, but when he begins to grow horns out of his head, his life gets really weird. People begin confessing their darkest desires to him, asking his permission to indulge in the acts they always wanted to do but never could, and they do whatever he says. No one acknowledges the horns or how weird they are, though they can all see them. Indeed, no one finds their behavior at all odd. But the world around Ig has shifted, suddenly and surely, giving him a demonic authority to hunt down his girlfriend's killer when the mortal authorities refuse to even try.

But Horns, killer hook or no, is an unfortunately sloppy movie. The sporadic voice-over narration is largely worthless, clumsily stating whatever's already on screen with no rhyme or reason as to when it happens. And the tone vacillates wildly between comedy, horror, and what appears to be a superhero origin story.  Except the comedy swings between broad, goofy, wild-eyed confessionals and sharp satire, neither of which sits very smartly next to, say, the fairly graphic rape of Ig's girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple) or the ponderous, idealized flashback sequences to the group's shared childhood. Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) can't moderate his tones, and ends up settling instead on raising everything to 11 and hoping excess alone is an aesthetic.

The film is at its strongest in dark comedy mode, mining laughs from the way the media latches onto sensationalist cases like this and the horrible things it brings out in a community. Whether it's the news crews Ig convinces to beat each other nearly to death for a chance at an exclusive interview with him or the waitress who speaks in raptures over how she plans to parlay her testimony into TV appearances and a sex tape, Horns at its best plays like a bleakly comic fantasy take on Gone Girl. Nick Dunne may have had his sister Margo, but in Ig's world, no one has his back, and everyone is looking out for themselves first and foremost.

Of all the actors, only really Daniel Radcliffe fares particularly well. Radcliffe was never given much credit for the nuance of his portrayal of Harry Potter, a character he took from a child to an adult with a surprising amount of care. Ig Perrish has none of Potter's emotional range, but it does show that Radcliffe has a surprising talent for understated comedy and overstated bitterness and fury. The rest of the cast is given little to do, operating mostly as stock characters to be comically shat upon (Kelli Garner, Heather Graham) or to harbor daaaaaark secrets (Max Minghella, Joe Anderson). Minghella in particular is so stiff and lifeless - I can't decide how much of that is his fault, though; Lee, his character, is painfully dull - that I kept forgetting who he was between appearances

There's a lot to like about Horns, but the movie just doesn't hang together as well as it could or should. At its best, Horns asks if it is better to be the only innocent in a fallen world, or to embrace your darkness to expose the lies at the heart of society. It is epic, a fantastical ode to human misery, but without the humor of its best segments to leaven things a bit, it comes across as naive and preposterous. Radcliffe is having a blast and Hill's novel is pretty killer, but Alexandre Aja and writer Keith Bunin have created a film that leans more towards Ghost Rider than Gone Girl, and last I checked, no one even wanted the Ghost Rider films they already had, let alone an off-brand remake.

Horns is currently available to rent or buy on Amazon Instant Video, and will be out on DVD and blu-ray on Tuesday, January 6th. Directed by Alexandre Aja and written by Keith Bunin based on an adaptation of Joe Hill's novel of the same name, Horns stars Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, and Kelli Garner.
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