CAPSULE: HORNS (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Alexandre Aja

FEATURING: , , Max Minghella, Joe Anderson,

PLOT: An accused killer (Daniel Radcliffe) awakes one day to find horns growing from his head and people suddenly anxious to confess their secrets to him.

Still from Horns (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite some good ideas, Horns‘ uneveness ultimately undoes it, and it’s not weird enough to overcome its lack of clear purpose.

COMMENTS: Horns begins promisingly, but loses its way as it meanders to its devilish finish. Up until the last act, I was still with the movie, though just barely. But the film begins with its strong points and slowly squanders them, ending up in a diabolical failure. The crazed premise intrigues. Daniel Radcliffe plays Iggy, a lover accused of murdering his beloved during a drunken blackout. All signs point to him as the culprit, and his town has already condemned him on circumstantial evidence (“Go to Hell!” reads a prophetic sign wielded by an angry protestor).

After a desperate act of desecration, Iggy wakes up to find two ram’s horns growing out of his temples. Here, almost at the very beginning, is where the movie hits its height, detouring from a burgeoning mystery drama into dark comedy. People (well, most people) can see Iggy’s horns, but they’re not startled by them. Instead, the protrusions cast a spell that makes them confess, and sometimes act out, their darkest secrets, beginning with a doughnut-scarfing slut and progressing through a doctor who proves less than helpful in amputating Iggy’s unwanted growths because he can’t resist sneaking some of his patient’s anesthesia for himself.

Here is where Horns starts encountering problems. The film is working. But the people-aren’t-reacting-to-these-enormous-horns-poking-out-of-my-forehead jokes begin to wear thin, and the plot is stalling. So comedy is put aside and we transition into a supernatural procedural, as Iggy puts the horns’ power to use to search for the real killer. The solution to the mystery is obvious (although there is a slight twist), but method of sleuthing is novel enough to keep us interested (although we might wonder what happened to the comedy we were watching a few minutes ago). Unfortunately, the reveal arrives too early, and the film changes tone once again. Iggy grows crueler and more Satanic, leading to an action finale that shows off the movie’s poor CGI (although a scene with Radcliffe vomiting lava is admittedly pretty cool).

Horns brings us a flood of religious symbolism: broken crosses, serpents, Eve’s diner (with an apple logo), Radcliffe transformed into a cartoonish Lucifer as his lust for revenge grows. There is clumsy voiceover and clichéd-feeling erotic flashbacks to Juno Temple dancing to Bowie’s “Heroes.”  There’s an out-of-focus muti-drug trip scene that ends with a forest growing in living room and an extremely nasty and out-of-place murder/rape flashback. All-in-all, there are too many narrative and stylistic gambles, without enough payoffs. The result is an initially promising film that ends up as a mild disappointment. Horns may be successful in changing Radcliffe’s image, however: whether the change is from cute magical lad to tormented antihero, or from bankable star to fading child actor in need of a better agent, may be a matter of opinion.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for a genre that rarely deviates from the cyclical and the tried and true (torture porn this time around, ‘70s throwback terror another), Horns is a welcome bit of weirdness.”–Bill Gibron, Pop Matters (contemporaneous)

3 thoughts on “CAPSULE: HORNS (2013)”

  1. ” Horns begins promisingly, but loses its way as it meanders to its devilish finish. Up until the last act, I was still with the movie, though just barely. But the film begins with its strong points and slowly squanders them, ending up in a diabolical failure.”

    I haven’t seen the movie, but this is true in the book, too. Until I read it, I didn’t think that ‘inability to write a good ending to a horror novel’ was something you could inherit from your father, but both Kings share it.

  2. Sorry, my comment was under the assumption that the review mentioned that it’s based on a novel by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son. From this short review, the movie follows the book almost exactly.

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