Fantastic Fest 2014 Review: Horns


Harry Potter gets a little horny

Having grown up on screen over the span of a decade, as the titular star in the Harry Potter franchise, Daniel Radcliffe’s career path could have gone one of several ways. He could have become a steadily employed actor in his native England, appearing in a myriad of BBC productions including at least one Jane Austen adaptation. He could have left the acting profession altogether and lived off his pot of gold Potter earnings. Or he could have been an actor who couldn’t escape the burden that goes with having played a most famous character, and being looking at by producers and casting directors as being nothing but that kid who had a lightning bolt etched into his forehead.

Unlike the Lindsay Lohans of the world, Radcliffe hasn’t made a public spectacle out of himself, making weekly appearances on TMZ. Instead he, like The Lord of the Rings‘ Elijah Wood, has found an outlet that is an about face to the fantasies he helped make famous on the big screen. Switching to the horror genre, first with the gothic Hammer release The Woman in Black, Radcliffe is showing that there’s more to him than being that Harry Potter fellow.

What better way to escape the status of being the most famous boy wizard in all of literature and film than playing a radio disc jockey that is accused of raping and murdering his longtime girlfriend. And that’s the story of Horns, Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of the Joe Hill novel.

Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is madly in love with Merrin (Juno Temple) who he has known since the two were kids attending the same church. Then his life spirals with the news of her passing. When he wakes up with devil horns growing out of his head you get the sense that the quaint Washington logging town where he resides would never be the same. With the newfound ability of being able to have anyone tell him their darkest truths, whether it be a mother wanting to drive off and leave her spoiled brat of a kid, or another admitting she’s never been with a jigaboo before, Ig starts his own exploratory search for just who killed Merrin.

Those three words, “Who killed Merrin” gives off a Twin Peaks vibe and it is not lost on audiences familiar with the short-lived ABC series from the early ‘90s co-created by David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive). The incorporation of flashbacks to see the maturation of Ig, where Hill does his own take on his father’s novella The Body (filmed as Stand By Me) as we see Ig and friends engage in monkeyshines as what kids tend to do in the prime of youth, plus his relationship with Merrin.

The people that populate this wooden hamlet appear to be regular blue-collar folk, but there’s a darkness that exists within the inhabitants. When Ig reveals the truths they keep hidden the homely town is livened and the weirdness of Horns is exposed. Not to the level of the characters of Lynch’s Twin Peaks, because this world doesn’t reach or aspire to such depths. It’s more of a juxtaposition of different genres: fantasy, young adult romance, and a mystery that needs solving.

The Washington setting gives a Twilight vibe, only with mythical creatures not called vampires or werewolves. And instead of Sam Spade and his fedora or Nick Charles and a martini, it’s Ig Perrish with a snake draped around his neck.

With the mishmash of genres Horns doesn’t quite meet the level of expectations that should go with a production that involves Radcliffe, Alexandre Aja and the son of Stephen King. Don’t get me wrong – the effects are well done and the principal actors are good in their roles. But it feels unsure of what it wants to be. There are filmmakers that can do the genre mash (see Edgar Wright with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), but Aja, who has a tongue-in-cheekiness about him when it comes to the horror genre, isn’t as surefooted this time out. Perhaps it is due to Horns being more fantasy based than horror.

Still, the movie has its moments of fun. A skirmish between news reporters looking to get an exclusive interview with Ig after Merrin’s death may seem tame compared to those in the Anchorman comedies, especially for a horror movie, but it got a nice reaction from the audience that filled four different screens at the first presentation at Fantastic Fest. This type of levity and warranted injection of comedy keeps the adaptation light; striking the right balance of scares and laughs.

Aided by a colorful set design, including a family diner named Eve’s, its name illuminated inside a red apple (a little biblical prodding, methinks), Aja is able to reclaim some manner of control in this fantasy. Daniel Radcliffe continues to impress post-Harry Potter and Juno Temple is a radiant gem with limited screen time. It’s too bad that the mesh of genres and hopping it does between could only meet average results.

Director: Alexandre Aja
Writer(s): Keith Bunin, based on the novel by Joe Hill
Notable Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Kelli Garner, James Remar, David Morse, Kathleen Quinlan, Max Minghella, Heather Graham

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