by Hope Madden
“Who’s the new girl at church?”
It’s a line brimming with innocence and temptation, filled with the possibilities of good versus evil, predator v prey. It’s a nice start to a crime drama steeped in surreal, Miltonesque imagery.
Along with a good line, Horns boasts quite a fantasy/horror pedigree. Helmed by French horror director Alexandre Aja (High Tension), written by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, and starring Harry F. Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), it’s sure to draw the attention of – let’s be honest – nerds. Like me. The beguiling if flawed effort can’t quite become greater than the sum of its parts, though. But it is a wild ride while it lasts.
Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is commonly believed by his community to have murdered his much-beloved girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). It’s a bit like Gone Girl, except that Ig’s crisis is compounded by the fact that he’s begun sprouting bony horns from his forehead. More than that, in the presence of the be-horned Ig, people compulsively confess their dark secrets.
Overripe imagery and symbolism inform a film that is comfortably over-the-top. It’s a glorious mess riddled with stiff dialog, and so tonally discordant – leaping from thriller to comedy to horror to mystery and back – that the effect is dizzying. Yet somehow Horns is utterly watchable.
Much credit for the film’s successes sits with Radcliffe, who seems utterly at home in a supernatural environment full of demons, tragedy, angst and earnestness. Temple also strikes the right innocent nymphette cord, and the young cast of the childhood flashback is especially strong.
The storyline itself carries the unmistakable odor of Stephen King, with the small town crime and flashback to the innocence of youth and the many untold dangers therein (Stand By Me, It, etc.) But King Senior never dove headlong into such blasphemous territory, while his son toys with recasting Satan, if not as hero, then as anti-hero.
Aja struggles gleefully to strike the right tone, and though his cast seems game, no one can quite overcome the symbolism gimmicks or stilted dialog.
Dense with color and texture, Horns invites you into a wild, often poorly acted and weakly written yet sumptuously filmed world of dark magic. It’s a fascinating mess.