Starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, Horns is a visually striking film based on the novel by Joe Hill, directed by Alexandre Aja. Although it didn’t set the critical world alight, it plays like an alternate version of the goth classic, The Crow, unfortunately it just falls short of having the same lasting impact.
Radcliffe plays Iggy, a scruffy looking guy, who is in love with Juno Temple’s Merrin.We are introduced to them as lovers in a Shakespearian forest setting at the beginning. We soon realise all is not well, as Iggy is shown depressed and staring out the window at a crowd outside his house. The signs say murderer and no more exposition is needed. Iggy is accused of killing Merrin and is the most hated man in town. He hides in a tree house crying and drinking as the town people hold a vigil, when they leave he loses temper, smashes a Virgin Mary statue and urinates on the scene, an old friend Glenna rescues him and they spend the night together. In the morning the fun starts.
When Iggy wakes up, he has grown a small set of horns on either side of his head. Gruesomely they have poked through the skin and make him look like a demon. Glenna doesn’t seem to mind and in fact starts to act weirdly around Iggy. She tells him things that make her seem drunk and asks his permission to be a glutton. Iggy heads to the doctors and things get even stranger. People don’t mind the horns and seeing them makes people tell him the horrible things they want to do inside their heads. It seems to make them lose all inhibitions as we see graphically between the doctor and his nurse, while Iggy is under anaesthetic. Here is when the film begins to kick on the same themes as The Crow. His partner has been murdered and he is left, changed and putting the pieces together. True – he hasn’t been murdered himself, but the powers bestowed on him and t quest he goes on are similar.
The film also betrays the parentage of the author in a scene, that could have been from any Stephen King book. We are introduced to all the main protagonists as younger children. We see Iggy and his older brother, Glenna, his best friend Lee and the fat bully Eric. All the characters are reminiscent of films like Stand By Me and we get a small entertaining scene where Lee saves Iggy from drowning but vent lead him to lose his fingers with a cherry bomb. At the time of watching, this seems like background filler, however later we know its relevance. Lee turns out to be the solicitor defending Iggy and the only one who the Horns have no effect on. Iggy presumes this is because he has led such a good life. Iggy has run ins with his parents, Merrin’s father, the local waitress at the diner where he was going to propose the night of the murder and even with his drug addicted brother, Terry. All these lead him to have an epiphany as he sinks deeper and deeper into depression, surrounded by snakes and carrying a pitchfork. Subtle the imagery is not. Now Iggy is in full vengeful, vigilante mode.
He uses his influence and his new-found collection of snakes to wreak havoc on the deserving. The lying waitress played by Heather Graham, gets bitten by snakes to make up for her vanity. Eric has the denial of his sexuality exposed, and Terry is forced to overdose on his large collection of drugs. All because the truth about Merrin is beginning to emerge. All his friends are involved, one way or another and the tale becomes more complex. It all leads to a stand-off with lee. Rather than spoil the story, the resolution is the only problem I have with the film. It just pushes the boundaries a bit too far.
Iggy is transformed back to his normal self because of Merrin’s crucifix. Then we find out it is a shield against the effects of the Horns, He casts this aside in the final confrontation with the killer and turns into an angel then a devil. A bit OTT, but then it had been foretold throughout the film. What I liked about the concept of the Horns, was the simple nature of the ailment. What would you do if you suddenly woke up with horns on your head? You would go to the doctor. The film keeps this level of simple realism up until the end, where it goes a little crazy. There is very little horror in the film although the deaths can be quite visceral. The overdose scene is also quite disturbing, and we never get a full breakdown or resolution to Iggy’s problems with his own family. I would also liked to have seen a bit more of the aftermath of Merrin’s death, rather than this manifestation happening a few months later. Because of these omissions, the film seems a bit lightweight.
Saying it compares to The Crow, is harsh on the film. The Crow succeeds with its supernatural elements, due to the pure simplicity of its story. Horns adds in a very complex version of a simple story and makes it even more complex by having so many unexplained elements, that it reveals over the course of the film. It works and I found it enjoyable, however that feeling of lack of substance, never goes away and despite all the positives found in the performances and imagery, is the aspect that remains when the credits roll.