WRITTEN REVIEW – Horns (2014)
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Keith Bunin
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Mingella & Heather Graham
Music: Robert Coudert
Release Date: October 29th 2014
Post-Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has been demonstrating some incredible range as a young actor. Whether it’s in the gothic horror ‘The Woman in Black‘, the literary biopic ‘Kill Your Darlings‘ or romantic-comedy in ‘What If‘, he has done a terrific job at stepping out of the huge legacy the iconic Warner Bros. franchise has saddled him with. Now, seemingly combining everything he has done before into one movie; the literary origins, the fairytale romance and the horror sensibilities, he stars in ‘Horns’, a movie that’s not entirely successful in its intentions but is, nevertheless, one hell of an enjoyable ride. After all, how bad can a film be when a good guy is given the devil horns and pet snakes?
“People say you should always do the right thing, but sometimes there is no right thing. And then, you just have to pick the sin you can live with.”
‘Horns‘ follows the story of Iggy (Radcliffe) who has been victimised by the citizens of his religious home town (named Gideon in the book, but is unnamed in the movie) for allegedly killing his childhood love, Merrin (Temple). After a particularly sacrilegious grieving session, Iggy wakes up one morning to find horns growing from his forehead which have a very strange set of magical abilities; whenever Iggy talks to someone, they are compelled to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets and sins. Iggy plans to use these new-found abilities to find out who really killed Merrin and uncover the hidden truths from those closest to him.
A premise like that is ripe for comic set-pieces which ‘Horns‘ wastes no time in delivering with. There are some incredible laughs to be had in the first half of the movie and after his previous work on ‘Piranha 3D‘ there’s no doubt that director Alexandre Aja has real skill at balancing black-humour with a dark aesthetic. It’s also brilliant that some of the minor cast members who are at the receiving end of Iggy’s supernatural influence are absolutely game for the premise and completely let loose with their performances, exposing the dark side of human nature through biting religious satire.
What’s intriguing about ‘Horns‘ though, is that it’s able to seamlessly go into a darker direction through its 2nd act digressions when Iggy starts to learn about his loved ones and family members and how they truly feel about him. It’s in these scenes where Radcliffe digs deep into the dark subject matter and gives his best post-Potter performance of his career so far. Radcliffe is able to sell the dark humour of the earlier scenes as well as the traumatic experiences he goes through later on in the movie. Regardless of your thoughts on ‘Horns‘ as a whole, it can’t be denied that Radcliffe is experimenting and branching out in terms of his filmography and that’s incredibly commendable.
As stated before, the minor cast-members are memorable, whether it be Heather Graham in a small role as a vain waitress hoping to incriminate Iggy for her own selfish ends, David Morse as Merrin’s grief-stricken father who only has one or two key scenes but he nails them all and also the two police officers who hound Iggy throughout the film. There are even some really good performances by the child actors who appear in frequent flashbacks which flesh out the main characters. But it’s actually the adult versions of those characters who end up being the weak links in the cast. Juno Temple is given a rather thankless role as the dead girlfriend who features predominantly in the aforementioned flashbacks. While she’s good in the film, she’s mainly there to be an ethereal archetype as opposed to an actual character. Joe Anderson is here playing the same character as he did in ‘Across the Universe‘ in 2007. He plays it well, but it’s just another stoner-musician archetype. And while Max Minghella is really trying as Iggy’s defence attorney and childhood friend, the direction his character has to go in towards the end of the movie is a direction Minghella is completely unable to sell.
If there’s one thing the movie gets right though, it’s the atmosphere. Aja knows his way around a morbid setting and the town in which ‘Horns‘ is set in is gorgeously shot and almost becomes a character in and of itself. The varied locations and colour palette prevents the film from becoming visually stale but still contrasting the premise of ‘Horns‘ in an ordinary humdrum town. In fact it’s with the colourful citizens of Gideon where the movie finds its biggest flaw; the lack of closure to the story.
While Iggy himself gets closure by the end of the movie, he’s the only one to. Because ‘Horns‘ explored the seedy underbelly of this self-proclaimed righteous town, it would have been ideal to have seen the aftermath these events had on the citizens of Gideon. We don’t find out any of the aftermath of Iggy’s story which is frustrating considering how much the film focused on the town itself as a narrative-device and as a personality. Some characters actually seem to drop out of the movie entirely with their story-arcs woefully incomplete meaning that while ‘Horns‘ is an enjoyable experience while watching it, once its over it starts to feel disappointingly hollow with little staying-power. Because of this, ‘Horns‘ might not be able to become the cult-classic many people are wanting it to be, but its still a fun and visceral watch during its two-hour runtime.
One unsung aspect of the production, however, will be the subtle but effective make-up work headed by Rita Ciccozzi (which runs circles over the poor CGI-effects that become more frequent as the movie goes on) and Robin Coudert’s effective pulsating score helping to accentuate the tension throughout the film. It’s easily Coudert’s best score since ‘Maniac‘ and he’s quickly becoming a horror-music force to be reckoned with.
In Conclusion: There are lots of laughs and moments of genuine pathos to be found in ‘Horns‘ with career-best work from Radcliffe. But the script doesn’t appear to be fully-formed as despite being 2 hours long and lacks closure for anyone other than the main character. But ‘Horns’ is a warped and enjoyable piece of counter-programming at this time of year and around Halloween 2014 there’s nothing out there quite like it.
I give ‘Horns‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 3rd Nov 14