Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is having a HELL of a time.
First, his Stevie Nicks-esque, wood nymph girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple), is brutally raped and killed at the base of their treehouse, leaving him the prime suspect in her murder.
Sometime later, the grieving 20-something gets blackout drunk, desecrates her memorial site, and wakes up the next morning to discover he’s got horns growing out of his forehead. Horns that, as it turns out, are powerful enough to compel anyone who looks at them to reveal deep secrets and give in to their most base and primal urges. Horns that might ultimately help him solve the mystery of his girlfriend’s murder.
Joe Hill’s 2010 supernatural thriller HORNS gets the camp treatment in this uneven effort by director Alexandre Aja, but the larger problem at play here isn’t the humor that’s found a way to coil itself around some otherwise dark source material – it’s that Keith Bunin’s adaptation is just a straight-up, tone-deaf mess.
“Are you horny yet?” asks Merrin, in one of the script’s many wince-inducing nods to the film’s ubiquitous horns. And the winces keep on coming, mostly in the form of cringe-worthy confessions: two cops start slobbering all over each other after admitting to a mutual desire; a doctor would rather snort a couple lines of Oxy with Ig than take a closer look at the horns.
Shades of TWIN PEAKS (1990) appear in the story, but not the kind you want and that might lend some suspense or intrigue to the film as it unfolds. In fact, you kind of know exactly where this story is headed from the opening scene, when Aja’s lens moves from an overhead shot of the lovers sprawled out in what looks like a live-action FERNGULLY (1992) set, then swiftly descends to expose the soil underneath and ultimately Ig, passed out on the floor of an apartment in some bleaker version of the future. It’s an all too obvious way of telling you he’s in hell, his world has suddenly been turned upside down, etc., etc. … you’ll get the idea.
If it helps, at least HORNS does prove that Radcliffe — he of the HARRY POTTER, Alphabet Aerobics, and maybe EQUUS if-you’re-kind-of-snotty fame — will be sticking around for a while.
He’s all skin, bones, and angst here, even before he gets the horns. Once Aja is done playing up the confessions for awkward laughs, the revelations get progressively heavier and more disorienting. Ig’s folks both think he’s guilty of Merrin’s murder, as if they don’t see the same sad wounded puppy look in Ig that we do. His dad (James Remar) feels responsible for him regardless, but his mom (Kathleen Quinlan) just wishes he would shut up and disappear.
Radcliffe offers up an intensity in these scenes, which helps bring genuine gravitas to the role. But he’s having more fun — and by default, so are we — when he gets to embrace the diabolical side of Ig’s transformation and play around a little bit with the accessories, which include snakes, pitchforks, and the works.
Some overkill is to be expected, and what HORNS makes clear is that restraint really isn’t Aja’s strong suit. (From the guy behind the 2006 remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES – who would have thought?) A slow-mo wide shot of Radcliffe striding out of a bar he’s helped to set ablaze (sort of) while smoke billows out around him feels totally ham-handed. Meanwhile Heather Graham, fresh off those Lifetime incest movies, squirms her way through a scene that feels lifted from the SNAKES ON A PLANE (2007) cutting room floor.
In the end, Ig’s transformation into a demonic entity out to avenge his girlfriend’s murder doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In a better movie, it might not matter, but in this one – which is already shackled by the need to make some shallow insights into the nature of spirituality – it ultimately works against the narrative and is just fucking confusing.
That, coupled with a few fake finishes and bad CGI effects, will leave you feeling like you’ve been to hell and back (If Bunin gets to do it, so can I) by the time HORNS wraps.
HORNS (2013) dir. Alexandre Aja
10/31 – 11/5, 10PM
$10 GA, $8 Student/Member
40 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138