“Tell me! Tell me everything I need to know!”
Alexandre Aja has never lived up to his directorial debut, High Tension, but to give him credit he did manage to set the bar pretty high. I haven’t really enjoyed any of his horror films since then, but I have to admit Horns was quite a unique experience. It was nothing like his previous films, and despite being considered a horror film it isn’t really one. There aren’t any scary moments in Horns and there is actually quite a bit of humor. It is more of a dark comedy mixed with mystery as the lead character, played by Daniel Radcliffe, has to figure out who murdered his girlfriend while the entire town suspects he did it. Along the process he acquires a strange supernatural ability after waking up one night with horns on his head. These horns make the people around him confess their deepest and darkest desires to him. He can also manage to look at people’s past once he touches them. Using these abilities he sets out to find the killer, so you could say this is a superhero film as well. You could classify this film in so many genres because at times it felt like Aja didn’t know what kind of film he wanted to make. There were many tonal shifts and some of the genre changes felt forced. I was really into this film during the first hour because the premise hooked me and the story was interesting. I also found the weird sense of humor quite funny, but as the story progressed and some revelations were made my enjoyment faded rapidly. It just lost track of what it was trying to do and most of the genre switches felt displaced and misbalanced. The film also becomes tedious towards the end because it felt overlong at two hours. Perhaps the childhood flashbacks could have been eliminated to allow a better pacing because I didn’t feel they added much to the story. Horns had so much potential to be a better film but unfortunately it suffers from trying to balance several tones and loses its identity in the process.
Keith Bunin adapted the screenplay from Joe Hill’s book, which I haven’t read so I can’t say how faithful the adaptation is. What I can say is that Daniel Radcliffe gives a strong performance and his American accent is spot on. It is interesting to see the transformation his character goes through as he discovers the power these new horns give him. Radcliffe is proving to have a wide range as he has played some dark characters this past year trying to break away from his Harry Potter days. I wasn’t a fan of the supporting cast mostly because the dialogue in this film felt melodramatic and forced at times, but Juno Temple does give a solid performance. It was fresh to see her in this role as a sweet girl instead of the trashy trailer park character she has often played. We believe that this girl really is the object of affection of the townspeople. The rest of the characters in this film are forgettable and no one really adds anything to the story.
This modern day fable-like story has a nice visual style to it. The town where it is set is gorgeous and we are surrounded by this beautiful landscape which contrasts with the darkness of the story and the characters. Unfortunately Horns doesn’t just suffer from a mishmash of genres, but it also seems to have some inconsistencies with its premise. I can’t get in to details without spoiling the film but there was something about the revelation of the murderer that didn’t make sense to me. The other issue I had with Horns was that it never established some of the rules of what the horns could do. At times it seemed as if the people had to ask Radcliffe’s character for permission to perform their darkest desires, but at others they simply did them even when he was against them. So why would some people ask them if they didn’t need his permission in the first place? That was just a minor issue I had, but nothing that really took me out of the film. The first hour of Horns is really engaging and entertaining, but the final hour is a letdown.