Daniel Radcliffe just can’t seem to get away from the supernatural. Harry, er, Daniel’s latest dabble into the occult is the horror/mystery/comedy Horns. He’s quite good in it, and there’s a fair amount of suspense and dark, disturbing humor on display. Unfortunately, near its wind-up the movie takes a wrong turn into an effects-heavy, symbol-laden, comic-book-style battle between Good and Eeeeeeevil.
Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a young man accused of brutally murdering his wonderful, beautiful, pure-hearted girlfriend Merrin. Everyone in town believes he killed her, particularly since it happened the same night that she very publicly dumped him. (The seemingly happy couple had been dating since childhood, as is shown in several extended flashbacks). In an example of the power of negative thinking - even his family believes the worst about him - Ig grows a pair of goat-like horns that provide him with powers he’d really rather not have. Unfortunately for him, these strange powers will be essential to Ig’s ability to uncover who the true murderer is.
You see, Ig’s horns encourage everyone he meets to reveal their deepest, most brutal, nastiest truths to him - and with just a bit of encouragement from this unwilling proto-devil, they also get the license to act on those primal desires. It’s easy to sympathize with Ig as he struggles with way, way Too Much Information.
Director Alexandre Aja plays up the comedy in Keith Bunin’s script, based on a novel by Joe Hill, especially during the first half of the film. Particularly funny is the doctor (Alex Zahara) Ig sees about his tempular protuberances who, under the horns’ influence, offers to grind up some oxycodone and party with Ig, then rants about his demanding patients (“Always thinking about themselves!”). Attempts to remove the horns surgically fail when the doc and his nurse (Kendra Anderson) get “permission” to screw like rabbits while Ig is under anesthesia.
And in what can only be seen as Radcliffe’s revenge on the paparazzi and the all-devouring media, he instigates a knock-down brawl among the local news vultures who have been relentlessly trailing him as he tries to uncover the truth about Merrin’s death. In addition, Heather Graham has fun as an empty-headed, fame-hungry waitress, and Michael Adamthwaite and Nels Leonardson are quite funny as a pair of deeply closeted cops who, freed by Ig’s suggestions to finally get it on with each other, send up every tired gay porn trope about men in uniform in the process.
But it’s not all fun and games, and Horns gets less interesting as Ig gets closer to the truth about Merrin’s murder. Just about everyone he loved and trusted has betrayed him, and that, combined with the snakes that start following him around, become a bit much for the poor guy. (The Biblical imagery also includes the diner where Graham works and where Ig and Merrin had their very public breakup. It’s named Eve’s, and its shiny red apple logo reflects brightly in the parking lot’s puddles.) It’s not clear if Aja is satirizing people’s belief in angels and devils or if he’s sincere about it, but I guess a lot of that depends on the viewer’s point of view in any case.
What is clear is that what’s been an amusingly nasty fable for most of its 120 minutes turns into an overdone, over-violent battle in its last 15 minutes or so. What is it with filmmakers that assume every movie has to end, not just with a bang, but with a nuclear-powered BANG! to be effective? The same problem dogged Cold in July and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Guardians of the Galaxy. Sometimes less really is more.
The setting, a small town in the Pacific Northwest, is one of several nods to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks; director Aja and screenwriter Bunin also mix in some Hitchcock (innocent man accused), with a touch of Kevin Smith circa Dogma (ambivalence about/mockery of religion), along with plot devices and special effects from lots of scream-fest horror flicks.
Radcliffe does well with both the humor and the horror; he really does have range, as shown in his stage work and in the 2013 indie flick Kill Your Darlings. The rest of the cast is good, by horror movie standards (I know, I’m a snob). While it’s kind of a bummer to go to a movie that gets worse as it goes along, the sick humor and sexy suspense that goes before it is nonetheless pretty tasty.