Horns (6 out of 10) Directed by Alexander Aja; Keith Bunin (screenplay), Joe Hill (novel); starring Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella; rated R (sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use); in limited release and on VOD; running time: 120 minutes.
It all starts with our defacto hero Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) waking up and finding actual horns growing out of his head. Strangely no one seems to find them surprising. His life is a mess. He has been accused of brutally murdering his girlfriend. A girl that everyone loved. And even his family doubts his innocence. And as his anger and frustration (he isn’t completely sure if he did it or not himself) grows, he sprouts a pair of devil’s horns outa the top of his head.
Everyone that he runs into begins acting strangely around him, telling him whatever is going through their minds as if the filter of their subconscious has been removed. They want to tell him the truth. But not just the everyday truth; they want to tell him the underneath truth. The reason behind the truth. Their ids are totally unleashed and they can’t lie at all. They also become extremely suggestible which leads to some fun if not obvious comic moments.
That is what happens to Ig in the movie (directed by Alexandre Aja – "The Hills Have Eyes", "Mirrors" and "High Tension"), and the novel it is based on (by Joe Hill – "Locke & Key", "Heart Shaped Box"),but the movie does it less convincingly. It hits all the right points, but just can’t seem to commit to the premise and as a result doesn’t completely get over the hump.
It really tries hard to capture the charm and psychological torment of the book, but the whole thing was strangely blandly unemotional. It did things that read as emotion, but they were technical things, like lighting and strategic use of familiar music. The actors were all great, but no one was believable in their roles. I never got the sense that they really bought into the premise. As if it actually was real. I think they got it as metaphor, but not as reality and for something like this, you have to sell it as reality.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, but it didn't deliver emotionally for me, and, let’s be honest, the whole thing rests on emotion. The emotions, confused and lost and hurt, of Ig. The love for Ig of Merrin (his girlfriend), the disappointment of his parents. The anger of the townspeople. It is all about love and hurt and anger and redemption, but the movie misses all of that feeling.
How would you feel if you woke up with horns growing out of your head and everyone thought you had committed something so heinous? There would be turmoil and angst and loss. Not just binary emotional markers: "I am quiet so I am being thoughtful, now I am yelling so I am being angry". It would be a tapestry and slow slides up and down and all around. There is no nuance to tonal shifts here, they just are.
Joe Hill, the author of the book, is the son of Stephen King, and as a writer, he really is a kinda Stephen King Jr; his books are shorter and more energetic, but he still fills them with Bob Dylan song quotes and deeply tormented characters who spend the whole story paying for being human. But his work is more optimistic than his father’s. I wish the movie had more of that. It is what made a ludicrous premise in the book actually work.
And technically Aja is very solid. It looked good and the effects work was all pretty strong. I couldn't track down the production budget, but my assumption is that it was fairly low and if so, the filmmakers did a good job of stretching it out.
I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. I wanted it to be a lot more than it was, but there is a lot worse on the screens out there. It is worth a viewing, but maybe not on the big screen with all of the trappings.
"Horns" is currently playing in limited Theatrical release and on Streaming and Video On Demand.
(Also, go read the whole run of “Locke & Key” right now. It is pretty much brilliant.)