Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella
Run Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
I'm usually in a minority. Please don't stop reading this blog when I admit that I'm not a fan of things like ketchup or The Lion King. It's just part of the unique collection of things that make me me. And make others despise me. But I have a suspicion that people tend to not like when others don't like what they like (you following me?) because it makes them feel attacked for their preferences. Trust me, whether or not I eat tomatoes has nothing to do with how much I like you.
I'm always put in a position where people feel the need to defend the things they love - not that I'm complaining. It gives me access to a perspective I wouldn't know anything about otherwise. Anyway, the point of this vividly unnecessary diatribe is that for once I'm in a positive minority rather than a negative one and I'm relishing it. You see, The Hills Have Eyes director Alexandre Aja's new film Horns is receiving a beating both critically and at the box office, but do you want to know a secret? I kind of loved it.
For reasons almost entirely separate from Daniel Radcliffe's face, body, and/or hair.
Adapted from a book by Joe Hill (Stephen King's son - who is making a name for himself in his own right), Horns is the story of Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), a young man who lives in a scenic logging town. When his long-term relationship with childhood sweetheart Merrin (Juno Temple) is abruptly terminated by her request and then her subsequent brutal murder in the woods, Ig becomes the prime suspect. Shortly after her death, horns begin to painfully emerge from his forehead.
Ig soon discovers that with the horns come the ability to encourage sinful thoughts in others and he uses this newfound power of persuasion to investigate the truth about the night of Merrin's death. As he embraces his devilish side (if you think you're escaping this film without some hardcore Christian allegory, you are sorely mistaken, but it's not obnoxious) and plumbs the cavernous depths of immorality that run through the lives of the townspeople, his own innocence is cast into doubt.
It's Gone Girl merged with a gory fairy tale/allegory populated by characters with flaws and heart in equal measures and it's a blissed-out fableistic thrill ride. Greg Nicotero's (of The Walking Dead) masterful makeup effects ground the film firmly in a physical reality so the more fantastical elements (eg. I don't know, maybe horns protruding from a man's head) have gravity and utter naturalism.
And it's pretty clear that those horns ain't supposed to be there. Just look at that rent flesh. There are moments in Horns that'll make you feel more empathy twinges than any Saw film ever could.
Horns is a tone juggler, shifting its weight swiftly between visceral fantasy horror, character-based mystery drama, and lighthearted farce. It's stylish enough to smooth over some of the rough patches and its infrequent stumbles are entirely due to an excess of ambition. If we overly faulted movies for being ambitious, Hollywood would win. And I daresay nobody wants that. We don't negotiate with studio notes.
But alas, it is true that, especially in the third act finale, the tonal shifts don't always slide together perfectly, sometimes jamming together right in the middle of a beat. But it is also in these sequences that the strongest individual moments can be found. If Aja & Co. hadn't taken the risk and gone for broke, some of the best parts of the movie could never have been reached, let alone dreamed of. I apologize for the vagueness of this paragraph, but spoilers be important to avoid in movies that are less than a week old. But let me just say that the film is better for its infrequent failings because they allowed it to reach a place of pure fantasy and fun.
Reach out, touch face.
The most dominant aspect of Horns is its sense of style. When making a horror fantasy, it's all too easy to crib from Guillermo del Toro's texts, but Aja, costume designer Carol Beadle, production designer Allan Cameron, and whoever the hell picked the songs for the awesome soundtrack work together to synthesize a slick, modern world for this classical tale to occupy.
Ig's costumes are relentlessly fashionable, using earth tones to further the sense of timeless naturalism, which combine with the serene vistas surrounding the town to create a supreme Anywhere, USA feeling while simultaneously giving the city and its inhabitants a realistic, intimate specificity.
All the performers in the film pull their weight, but front and center (both story-wise and performance-wise) is Radcliffe. Although his American accent gets a little dodgy in certain moments, he gives the single best performance of his career as a basically moral man dipping his toes into evil and finding it to his tastes. Throw on the jacket and slide out the Bowie record and you have a man who is troubled and compelling but ineffably cool.
And devilishly handsome. Ha. Ha ha. Get it?
The horror of Horns is vicious and unflinching. The drama of Horns is engaging and throbbing with life. The comedy of Horns is unexpected and delightful. And - holy hell, are we that far into the future that kids in flashbacks are wearing Nirvana T-shirts?
Anyway, watch Horns. I've had to tiptoe around the film a little more than I would like, but a lot of the power relies on the unexpected. It's far from perfect, but it's a delightful neo-fantasy murder mystery that already isn't getting the credit it deserves. Check it out!
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