Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, David Morse, Heather Graham
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use)
Running Time: 2:00
Release Date: 10/31/14
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 30, 2014
There are two mysteries central to Horns. The first is why the protagonist, who is widely suspected of the brutal rape (That aspect of the crime is only revealed in a flashback scene late in the movie as a questionable way to emphasize how horrific it is) and murder of his girlfriend, grows a pair of horns atop his head. A side effect is that those horns cause pretty much every person with whom he comes into contact to spill his/her guts about the most terrible, shameful thoughts that come into his/her mind. The second question, of course, is the identity of the girlfriend's killer. Rather unintentionally, the answer to the second mystery is revealed fairly early in the movie, leaving us a lot of time to ponder the first.
On a fundamental level, we understand that this is a fable of sorts—a tale of and about morality featuring some form of mythic folklore. In theory, there's a lesson here, although what it might be is a mystery that the movie raises as unintentionally as it gives away the identity of the real murderer.
The conceit is clever in a way, primarily in that it puts the hero in a position of judgment over those who are judging him. They only think they know what evil he has done. He knows for certain what evil they desire to do, and he also seems to have the ability to influence them to act on their darkest desires.
We're dealing with matters of perception and revenge in the workings of the horns that have sprouted from the head of Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), but the real matter is what Keith Bunin's screenplay (based on the novel by Joe Hill) does with those ideas. The short answer is that it doesn't do much with them.
The gimmick seems primarily to serve itself. Once the idea has been established that everyone—especially, the movie argues, the judgmental sort—has a skeleton or two in the closet, the screenplay repeats that theme with little variation. Bunin doesn't take it much further than that.
The secondary function of the conceit is to move the plot forward, although it really only provides a shortcut for Ig to cut through the complexity of the mystery and its various tangents. It's not really necessary for him to investigate a possible clue or question a person's motive when people are unnaturally driven to provide the exact information Ig needs to get to the next step. It's a tool for perfunctory plotting, which brings us back to wondering what point the horns and their effect really serve.
At first, they provide a bit of amusement in a story that doesn't seem the least bit amusing. To the public, Ig is the chief suspect in the murder of Merrin (Juno Temple), who had been his girlfriend since the two were kids.
Protestors stand outside Ig's home with signs condemning him to Hell. News vans create a caravan following his car on the highway. He insists he did not kill Merrin, but everyone assumes he's lying. The only person who really believes him is Lee (Max Minghella), his attorney and childhood friend.
One night, he sits in the treehouse that served as a secret rendezvous for the happy couple and listens to a vigil for Merrin. After everyone leaves, Ig, in a drunken stupor, defiles the site of Merrin's death. He wakes up in the morning to the pain of the emerging horns.
Now, everyone sees Ig as the monster they imagine he is. They also unknowingly tell him terrible things about themselves. Veronica (Heather Graham), a waitress at the diner where Merrin was last seen alive by anyone willing to talk, admits that she's lying about what she saw that night in order to get famous. After Ig discovers he can coerce people into doing what they want, he tells a group of reporters to fight each other for an exclusive interview with him.
This is darkly comic stuff that's funny for a while, and it's interesting how the conceit eventually opens up an entirely new set of problems for Ig when he confronts the people to whom he believed he was closest. His mother (Kathleen Quinlan) tells him that she wishes he would simply leave her life, and his father (James Remar) explains that Merrin was his favorite thing about his son. Merrin's father (David Morse) probably doesn't need the influence of the horns to tell Ig what he really thinks about the guy he is certain murdered his daughter, but he does so anyway.
The gimmick, though, keeps us at a distance from the real toll on these characters. Merrin isn't a character so much as she's an angelic figure who appears in flashbacks (including a lengthy one that sets up Ig's guilt about things over which he has no control), and even though it's easy to ascertain who the killer is, it's nearly impossible to guess just how deep into the realm of the supernatural the movie's climax goes. Horns has a novel approach to a pretty routine story and some intriguing ideas, but it's never clear to what end the movie incorporates them.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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