Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, David Morse, Joe Anderson
Director: Alexandre Aja
Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Daniel Radcliffe continues to shed his Harry Potter shackles with a trip to the dark side in Horns, director Alexandre Aja's adaptation of Joe Hill's 2011 novel; a film that offers the actor a delicious opportunity to alienate fans of his kid-friendly wizard franchise, but his straining for R-rated credibility feels forced at times, almost as if he's trying a bit too hard to ratchet up the psycho. While Horns has at it's heart a rather nifty central metaphor regarding the lurid and destructive impulses hidden behind social niceties, it never really taps into the inherent power of that metaphor. Instead, Aja (High Tension) gets lost in misguided comedy and melodramatic confrontations, most of which derail the film's already unwieldy tone. When it works, Horns has an atmosphere of oddball surrealism, with a hyperkinetic drug sequence and a gloriously nasty body horror finale being especially representative of Aja's abilities behind the camera. Unfortunately, there's also unbelievably awkward childhood flashbacks, complete with an obnoxious use of Pixies' "Where is my Mind", a song which, let's face it, is so overused in films that it's become parody. The humor too, is much too broad to gel with the picture's streak of morbid nihilism, featuring wild overacting and mis-judged winking that come directly before or after scenes of near-tragic pathos.
The story opens with Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) discovering that his girlfriend (Juno Temple) has been raped and murdered, and shortly thereafter being targeted by the media and law enforcement as the main suspect. While visiting his parents and musician brother (Joe Anderson), he enlists the help of his childhood friend Lee (Max Minghella) a lawyer who believes in his innocence. During these early scenes, Radcliffe plays Ig as a young man driven by anger and grief, unable to process the death of his lover and dedicated to finding the real killer. When he wakes one morning after a drunken one-night stand with a local bartender (Kelli Garner), he realizes a pair of devilish horns protruding from his forehead, the film takes a turn into Kafkaesque territory, with blackly comic interludes involving Ig being able to hear people's intermits thoughts and feelings. A series of zany interludes follow; including random strangers blurting out profanities against their children, cops confessing homoerotic feelings for one another, and in one truly embarrassing scene, a fame-obsessed waitress (Heather Graham) talking about giving the police false information in order to get on TV.
As an actor, Radcliffe fares best once the action shifts to his character embracing his more sinister impulses, sporting gnarly facial hair and strutting around with a snake coiling around his neck. During the early moments, Radcliffe's work feels a bit overcooked, with lots of shouting, crying, and frazzled emoting. Certainly, his character is going through a whirlwind of conflicting emotions, but Radcliffee seems much too eager to heighten his acting style to 11 in nearly every scene. Once he settles into a groove by investigating the mystery behind his girlfriend's death, he seems more relaxed and confident as an actor, giving Ig a streak of enjoyable menace that's palpably conveyed. The rest of the cast most flounders with either badly written or underwritten roles. Minghella is fine in the quieter scenes, but once his character's true motivations are revealed, he's unable to convey anything resembling villainy, so much so that his turn into dark territory plays laughably false. Temple, meanwhile, is seen mostly in softly-lensed flashbacks, presented more as a romanticized object of Ig's undying affection than a real person. Though Temple tries hard to imbue the character with an inner life, this is one of those all too familiar instances where the lone central female character is viewed through the prism of male fantasy. David Morse as Temple's grieving father, meanwhile, feels like he's acting in a completely different film; a better, more nuanced and emotionally resonant film.
Horns is admirable for trying to combine multiple tones in way that's not traditionally audience-pleasing, but it's disappointing that Aja doesn't seem to trust the material. This should have been a lean 90-minute blast of anarchic glee; instead, the film is much too padded out at 2-hours, with awkward stabs at ribald humor and Nicholas Sparks-level romance mawkishness drowning out the picture's stronger ideas. While Aja clearly relishes the idea of playing Ig's supernatural abilities as wacky comedy, he misses the opportunity to dig into the irresistible allegorical nature of the devil lurking inside all of us.