Directed By: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella
Tag line: "Love hurts like hell"
Trivia: Shia LaBeouf was originally cast in the lead role but he was replaced with Daniel Radcliffe
The sheer number of movies and TV shows based on the writings of Stephen King is staggering, to say the least (as of today, the total is fast approaching 200 separate works), and with films like Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Christine, Misery, and The Mist on his resume, it’s safe to say the author has single-handedly changed the face of horror for several generations of fans. With 2014’s Horns, King’s son, Joe Hill (full name: Joseph Hillstrom King) tosses his hat into the cinematic ring. Based on his novel of the same name and directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes), Hill’s Horns is a mash-up of several genres, all coming together to create a unique, if somewhat flawed, motion picture experience.
Ig “Iggy” Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is not the most popular guy in town. With the exception of his parents (James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan), his brother Terry (Joe Anderson), and his best friend / lawyer Lee (Max Minghella), everyone is convinced he raped, then murdered his longtime girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) in cold blood. Through it all, Ig has maintained his innocence, and is as anxious as anyone to track down the person who killed the love of his life. Then, one morning, he makes a startling discovery: two horns are growing out of his forehead! At first alarmed by this bizarre turn of events, the young man soon discovers that the horns have a strange effect on those around him, forcing people to confess their deepest, darkest secrets. Hoping to learn the truth of what happened on that fateful night. Ig launches an investigation, questioning everyone he comes across in the hopes they’ll lead him to the guilty party. Will Ig find the killer it time, or will his horns turn him into the monster people already think he is?
If I were to classify Horns, I’d say it’s a drama/thriller/mystery with a little romance, a touch of fantasy, and a smidgen of comedy all rolled into one. At times, this makes for an uneasy mix; a comedic scene where Ig convinces some reporters to beat each other senseless immediately follows what I consider to be the film’s most potently dramatic sequence: a visit to his parents, where, under the spell of the horns, they tell Ig exactly what’s on their mind (his mother’s comments cut particularly deep). So, which genres are best represented? First and foremost, Horns is an effective mystery, weaving a truly fascinating whodunit that manages to surprise us on a few occasions. Next, it’s an impressive romance. Radcliffe (who delivers an incredibly strong performance) and Temple have an excellent on-screen chemistry, giving the film its dramatic center. As for the fantasy elements, they work the majority of the time (Ig’s transformation is handled well enough, and features a few neat twists and turns), only to fall apart towards the end, at which point the story takes a brave step forward that, alas, comes across as silly. Even more shocking than the movie’s multitude of personalities is the one that’s not represented: horror. There are those (The Internet Movie Database included) who have classified Horns as a horror flick, yet despite its pedigree (based on a novel written by the son of Stephen King, directed by Alexandre Aja, etc.) and the presence of what some might call a “monster” (especially in the film’s second half, when Ig’s demonic side takes control of the situation), Horns is not a frightening motion picture. Unsettling, yes (its recreation of Merrin’s murder is downright chilling), but not terrifying in the least.
While the jury is still out on Joe Hill’s cinematic future, I have to say I enjoyed Horns, which, despite a few missteps, managed to hold my attention for a full two hours. Whether his output will ever be as prolific as that of his famous father’s remains to be seen, but based on this initial offering, I’ll be interested to see what Mr. Hill comes up with next.