By Gary Murray
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella and Juno Temple
Written by Keith Bunin
Based on the novel by Joe Hill
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Running time 120 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Cable
Being the world’s most successful kid actor is a double edged sword. On the one hand, you never have to worry about money (ever) so you can pick and choose any role you want but you become typecast in playing the same kind of role that made you famous. The paying audience rebuffs any attempt to do anything different.
Daniel Radcliffe is in that hard to adjust to sweet spot. e He He will be forever known as Harry Potter. Between the movies, merchandise and memorabilia that he gets a cut from, the young actor is finically set for life. But, it doesn’t make for a satisfying post-boy wizard career. In between bouncing on Broadway boards, the actor has been seen in such diverse flicks as What If, December Boys and Kill Your Darlings. His latest to break out of the mold is Horns.
The story opens in Seattle with a hung over Ig (Daniel Radcliffe). His world is in shatters and he has been living in the bottom of a bottle. Looking outside, there are reporters with cameras and protesters demanding his execution. It seems that he is the main suspect in the murder of his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). The problem is that he doesn’t remember anything that happened that night, the night they broke-up.
The family supports their son but they are not sure they believe in his innocence. His best buddy/oldest friend/ lawyer Leo (Max Minghella) is the one who got him out of jail and is working on his behalf. It seems on the surface that everyone is supporting Ig.
One morning, Ig wakes up and a pair of horns has begun growing out of his temples, right at the hairline. He begins to look like a cross between Pan and Satan, two images that do not settle well with the townsfolk. The horns work like a magic truth amulet, where every person who is around them spouts their deepest darkest secrets. One person admits to hating their child while another describes foul perverse acts. At first he is shocked by all of the admissions but slowly begins to realize that he can find out what truly happened to Merrin by using the magical horns.
The film jumps back and forth from the first meeting of Ig and Merrin in church to the painful break-up at a diner. The horns lead the investigation on the murder, bringing Ig closer to the truth about what happened that night and the not so surprising surprise ending. The story is of the journey not so much the outcome
Horns is part-murder mystery and part allegory. It is also a major mess of a film, insane and schizophrenic. Director Alexandre Aja is never sure exactly the kind of film he wants to make. The final product is all over the place with threads of fantasy melded with darker moments. There are a lot of interesting ideas presented but the overall final product is a jumble of half-thought out ideas that try to blend into a coherent whole.
At times it feels like an experimental film from the 1960s, with all weird camera angles and obtuse juxtaposition of images. There are religious symbols such as snakes and fire used to tell the story.
Daniel Radcliffe is trying to do everything he can to break out of the Harry Potter typecast. This role just doesn’t do it the way that What if should have. Over and over, one keeps thinking that Harry has spouted horns at Hogwarts. His best bet is to never take a role that has any magical elements, going either the drama or comedy route.
Most of the performances are static or obtuse, depending on how close they are to the horns. Stepping above and beyond the material is the performance by Juno Temple. Hers is one of the only true and honest characters in the piece, a three dimensional performance in a two dimensional world. Her character is the only one that carries any kind of credibility.
In the end, Horns is at best a cult film, something with a very limited appeal. It is not truly a horror film and not truly a revenge film. It is exactly like no other film one will see this year, a very unique vision that ties itself up a bit too neatly for its own good.
The only single element that I truly liked in Horns was the car that Ig drives. It is a classic AMC Gremlin. An AMC car from the 1970s that still runs and is in perfect shape–talk about another element of pure fantasy. It would make more sense if the producers would have shown it broken down on the side of the road every fifteen minutes, waiting for a tow truck. That would have added some realism to the film.