Friday, October 3, 2014

Character Drives Up An Otherwise Inconsistent Horns!

The Good: Most of the character elements, Decent performances, Moments of concept
The Bad: Erratic development of concept, Themes do not play out as well in the medium
The Basics: What might have been an engaging book, Horns packs in a number of themes that are erratically executed when a young man’s sudden demonic appendages give him the power to investigate his loved-one’s murder.

It usually takes quite a bit for me to subject myself to a horror movie. The truth is, the genre does not have a lot of appeal to me and the bag of tricks used by horror filmmakers is one that has been pretty well emptied over the years. Apparently, though, Daniel Radcliffe is enough to get me to tune in and when I learned of his new film, Horns, the concept was simple and direct enough to get me to invest the two hours.

On its surface, Horns is a pretty transparent reinterpretation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. To be fair to Horns, the film tries to create a character and a backstory, so it was unsurprising to me that the film is actually based upon a novel. It is worth noting that I have not read the novel, so this is a pure review of the film as it stands on its own.

Ig Perrish is an outsider who is pretty much ignored by the people of Seattle. He loves Merrin with a passion that leads him to declare her a fallen angel. Ig’s status as an outsider is compromised when Merrin is killed and the locals blame Ig and are convinced he is a murderer. With Ig turning to his lifelong friend, Lee, for representation and suspended from his job as a d.j., Merrin’s father Dale riles up the locals against Ig. The morning after Merrin’s candlelight vigil, after which Ig destroys a rosary statue and puts out the candles left behind by urinating on them, Ig awakens in bed with Glenna (the local bartender) and he sprouts horns.

The horns on Ig’s head are not the only anomaly in his life: Glenna immediately begins confessing to him her gluttonous desire for doughnuts and when he visits the doctor’s office, a stranger confesses her intimate secrets to him and Ig is able to read her mind (inadvertently). The doctor seems unable to recall that Ig has horns whenever he looks away and when he starts sawing the horns off Ig’s head, Ig recalls his childhood. In the flashback, Ig recalls seeing Merrin the first time, almost drowning as part of a dare, and how the cherry bomb Ig won for executing the dare blew off two of Lee’s fingers. Ig recalls bringing Merrin to their secluded treehouse where they have sex. Ig comes out of the surgery to discover that the doctor was unable to remove the horns – in fact they have grown. As people confess to Ig, he realizes that his newfound power has the potential to exonerate him and he begins the search for the person who killed his love. The search leads Ig to suspect someone very close to him and question the nature of his transformation and his existence.

Horns is not actually a horror movie and that makes it play out much better than it initially seems like it would. The story develops from what appears to be a horror conceit – man gets horns that make people confess their sins to him – into a tale that cleverly utilizes that conceit to try to tell a real-world story. Ironically, the result is that the movie turns into a somewhat mundane investigation story with a very familiar horror concept of an antagonist who is riling up the townsfolk with pitchforks. While Dale Williams does not bring about a Frankenstein-like climax where Ig faces mob justice, his presence serves to keep the story rooted with a very typical “grieving parent” antagonist. Unfortunately, David Morse is unable to bring Dale out of the role of an archetype.

Unlike a horror movie, Ig is not the antagonist in Horns, despite the repeated use of peripheral characters – the priest, the bartender, etc. – who treat Ig as if he must be the murderer. What is not made clear enough in Horns is why so many people turn on Ig so quickly. How could Ig be a successful d.j. and be the town pariah?! If Ig is such an outsider as his opening monologue declares him to be, how do so many people recognize him so easily to turn on him?

Unfortunately, director Alexandre Aja telegraphs too much of Horns. Juno Temple (Merrin) and Daniel Radcliffe (Ig) are embodied on-screen with no real sexual chemistry. Their relationship comes across as cold in some of the initial scenes and that acts to foreshadow later events long before they are made explicit. In a similar fashion, Max Minghella’s Lee plays off Radcliffe without any warmth . . . so it makes it less credible that they have truly been lifelong friends. Lee is presented within the first half-hour of the film as having the best motive to dislike Ig – Lee loses two fingers and a potential relationship with Merrin in the course of the same day! So, when we see Minghella’s Lee moments later introduced as a cold man who has no warmth for the old friend he is defending against the rest of the town, the film plods along in a less surprising way. Unfortunately, Horns does not present a journey that one watches and enjoys the process while Ig eliminates the suspects in his investigation.

As for Daniel Radcliffe, he is good in Horns and Harry Potter fangirls will get enough partial nudity to supply themselves with a few new fantasies. Horns, however, limits him with a character who gets embedded in a plot-centered story that does not evolve as much as his backstory is revealed. Radcliffe delivers well Ig’s lines where the character is frustrated by how people treat his suddenly sprouting horns is normal, but he never seems as shocked by his character’s developing demonic powers.

Ultimately, Horns is much better than I would have suspected going in, but it trades one genre for another and the result is much more typical than it is extraordinary.

For other works with Juno Temple, please check out my reviews of:
The Brass Teapot
The Dark Knight Rises
Year One


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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