October used to be a dumping ground for scary movies. You would expect to see a half-dozen horror films clogging theaters this time of year. Not so much anymore. Horror films are in an epic slump. The genre has been ravaged by lackluster remakes and found-footage nonsense. The most interesting entries in the genre these days seem to skip wide release in favor of the video-on-demand format. This seems fitting since so many horror films I watched in my youth were picked up from the old video store and on antiquated formats like videotape. Streaming media has allowed horror films once again to be discovered in the comfort of your own home where you can safely cower on your couch.
“Horns” is a strange little hybrid horror movie that does an exceptional job at being both creepy and funny. The story has a feeling of familiarity like it has existed in some other medium before; though, it’s something relatively new. It feels a lot like a Stephen King story: a strange set up, some interesting twists and wonderfully rendered three-dimensional characters. Flashbacks to earlier, less-complicated times when bonds that echo into adulthood are formed.
We meet Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), who is dealing with 10 pounds of tragedy. The love of his life, Merrin (Juno Temple), has been murdered, and everyone in the sleepy little logging town believes he is responsible. The townspeople view him as a pariah. The local news affiliates are hunting him down, looking for an exclusive. Even his family is awkward, wanting to believe Ig but not completely convinced of his innocence. The first few minutes feel like we’re entering into “Gone Girl” territory, but then something odd happens to Ig: He sprouts horns. Two big, demonic horns right out of his forehead.
Even stranger than these two protuberances are the effect they have on those who can see them. The wicked begin to confess their deepest, darkest secrets: the lies, the perversions, the hatred that silently lurks below the surface. At first, Ig doesn’t realize the depths of his new powers; however, soon he learns he can control these hellish powers. So, he begins to unleash brutal vengeance on those that have been causing him pain. There’s a lot of fun in the movie dealing with Ig’s descent into fire-and-brimstone revenge. As he learns the truth about Merrin’s last few hours, he allows himself to descend deeper into the darkness.
Daniel Radcliffe is really going out of the way to shed the clean-cut image of his wizard-robe-wearing days as Harry Potter. This is a very mature, dark movie with a lot of layers. If the goal is to change the conversation about his career: mission accomplished. He’s very good in this surreal role, though his American accent is just a little bit obtuse.
My major issue with the movie happens in the third act when it starts to turn into some kind of hybrid of “The Crow” and “Ghost.” Much of the movie indulges Ig’s journey into darkness, as he seeks to find the murderer of his lady love, but I never thought this would turn into some kind of superhero-origin story. By the time we reach the finale and Radcliffe’s character is turning into some kind of demonic human torch, I found myself fighting the urge to roll my eyes. The film starts off as a really dark, morbid tale of loss and vengeance, but then it abandons all subtly in favor of familiar tropes.
There was a point while watching “Horns” when I thought it could turn out to be the surprise of the year. Then, director Alexandre Aja makes a sharp right turn, putting the movie on an all too recognizable course. My other major gripe is the ridiculous rules at play in movies like “The Crow” and “Horns.” Imagine you live in a world in which you’re given supernatural abilities to exact vengeance on the guilty, yet somehow, even with these gifts, a guy can hit you with a chain and beat you to a bloody pulp. I’d like to think that being bestowed with magical afterlife powers would make you powerful enough to withstand being hurt by a stabby pitchfork.
Still, even with some laughable bits in the last five minutes, “Horns” is well worth a watch—if for no other reason than how wildly original the first two-thirds is. Unfortunately, there are great, burgeoning ideas that eventually turn into a sloppy mess: like a silky souffle that implodes due to neglect.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple and Heather Graham
Directed by Alexandre Aja