Movie Review: Insert “Horny” Joke Here

Ig Parrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is having a very rough time. His girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) has been brutally murdered, and the entire town thinks he’s guilty. After a night of mourning and drinking, he wakes up sporting a pair of devil horns that everybody can see and nobody thinks are all that odd. Even more unusual, people react to the horns by spilling their most shameful desires at the drop of a hat. Ig decides to use this newfound power to track down Merrin’s killer, but he may not be ready for the truth that he finds.

Based on the novel by Joe Hill, Horns is billed as a “tragicomehorroredy.” To director Alexandre Aja’s credit, the film does in fact seem to be an even blend of horror, comedy and tragedy, just like the book. Unlike the book, however, Aja focuses much more on the visceral aspects of Hill’s book than on the emotional. This sometimes works in the film’s favor, bringing some of the most mystic parts of the story firmly down to earth, but it just as often serves to highlight the film’s faults. Likewise, writer Keith Bunin compresses the narrative of the book immensely, which serves to ramp up the tension and drama, but also sacrifices a great deal of character development and motivation. Aja, known for graphic horror films like High Tension, admirably restrains himself aside from a couple of set pieces and doesn’t try to overcompensate with camera tricks or editing shortcuts, letting the film play on its own.

Daniel Radcliffe is an excellent Ig Parrish, nakedly emotional and completely committed to his role, down to his scruff and flawless American accent. That’s quite fortunate, since nearly the entire film is told from Ig’s perspective. Horns becomes almost a singular showcase for Radcliffe’s talent. Juno Temple plays Merrin well, and while the character doesn’t get much more depth than she did in the book, Temple easily exudes the charm and innocence that makes the character so important to the story. The supporting cast is full of “hey, it’s that guy” actors who acquit themselves well, including Heather Graham making the most of her cameo as a duplicitous waitress. Oh, and ophidiophobes take note: there are snakes. Lots and lots of snakes (both beautifully real and painfully digital).

The film works reasonably well as its own creature, even if it doesn’t fully examine the themes of the book: karma, revenge, the lies we tell ourselves and others to avoid pain. Aja and Bunin touch on those themes, but never go beyond a shallow reading of them, leaving much of the work to a Radcliffe voice over. It comes across as kind of a cop out, and the whole film feels rushed, even at a length of slightly over two hours. Radcliffe is amazing, and the film is worth the price of admission just for his performance. It’s just unfortunate that the film around him is guilty of a bit of sloth. It appears even films can be guilty of a sin or two.

6 out of 10 / B-

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