fri 14/08/2020

Horns | reviews, news & interviews

Horns

Horns

Adaptation of Joe Hill's novel is marred by its bizarre clash of styles

Before the fall: true love ways for Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) and Merrin (Juno Temple)

Adapted from the cult novel by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) and directed by Alexandre Aja, Horns can't keep itself on an even tonal keel for more than a few minutes. Part policier, part doomed romance and part gothic nightmare, I suppose it might even have created its own nano-genre.

Nonetheless I enjoyed it quite a lot, even with its over-optimistic two hour running time. But this probably isn't the film which will carry Daniel Radcliffe across the great divide from boy wizard to mature screen actor. Partly it's the nature of the piece, which frequently finds itself trying to straddle the impassable gulf between being meaningfully metaphorical or garishly literal-minded. Also it would be easier to take Dan more seriously if he wasn't so reminiscent of the young Harry Enfield, which lends a subliminal note of satire even when he's trying to emote like mad.

Just to complicate matters, Horns does carry some satirical intent as it unravels the fantastic tale of Ig Perrish (Radcliffe), who is assumed by his local community up in the logging country of the American northwest to have murdered his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). For much of the running time we have no idea whether he did it or not, though it seems that he and Merrin, lovers virtually since childhood, were fated to be together. But it's only the ingenuity of Ig's lawyer Lee (Max Minghella), another childhood friend in this claustrophobic little town, which is keeping Ig out of jail. News reporters hound Ig wherever he goes, sniffing for signs of guilty weakness, and even the friendly neighbourhood bar-keep tells him to go drinking (and he's drinking a lot) somewhere else.

But Aja and screenwriter Keith Bunin have a message for us, which is that if you bully and typecast people and treat them as outsiders, you might turn them into the thing you fear most. Thus, waking up one morning after a long night of drinking and shagging with Glenna the sluttish barmaid (Kelli Garner, pictured above with Radcliffe), Ig is aghast to discover diabolical horn-like growths sprouting from his forehead. Real and gnarly though these protruberances are, they also give Ig a metaphysical power over people he meets, who feel compelled to confess to him their dirtiest, guiltiest secrets. One of the film's most enjoyable passages is Ig's visit to the doctor to get his horns examined, where he's given far too much information by the resentful mother of a screaming child, the angry receptionist, and most of all the sex-crazed medic (pictured below, Radcliffe, Max Minghella and a fine pair of horns)

Ig's powers make it a little too easy for him to elicit confessions from various characters caught up in the Merrin murder mystery (the tale's awkward conceit is that people don't notice Ig's horns, they just succumb to their devilish allure). Waitress Veronica (Heather Graham) is even co-opted as a bludgeon to beat reality TV and celebrity culture over the head with, via a monologue in which she reveals her crazed wannabe fantasies.

Amid all this is threaded Ig and Merrin's ill-starred love story, which is touchingly traced back to the day when the young Merrin caught little Ig's eye in church. But the angels-versus-devils theme is ladled on as if it's being poured out of a cement-mixer, with Bad Ig able to switch to Good Ig by the simple expedient of removing the crucifix round his neck, as if we were in a creaky old Dracula movie. Meanwhile there's a sense that director Aja, best known for shockers like High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes, is having to curb his passion for slash'n'gore horror for the benefit of a mainstream audience. He gets to cut loose a bit in a startling denouement involving a lot of snakes, which have become Ig's diabolical familiars, though disappointingly these look like sleek and pampered Hollywood reptiles who can't really be bothered with too much biting and crushing.  

Horns is like three or four different movies fighting it out in a darkened room, and you could probably make several entirely different director's cuts. And yet... it's not a bad night out.

Overleaf: watch trailer for Horns

This probably isn't the film which will carry Daniel Radcliffe across the great divide from boy wizard to mature screen actor

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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