Horns is one of those movies that you’re not ready to talk about when you step out of the theater because you’re too busy trying to decide what you thought of it. It’s been a few days since I’ve seen it (in a theater located on the Champs Elysées, because I like giving you details that will make you hate me) and it’s going to be difficult to talk about this movie without rambling a lot, so I’ll give you a summed up version of my opinion. Please note that I have not read the book, so I will not be able to speak of the movie as an adaptation. Now, without further ado, the short version.
The movie’s a mess. Also, it deserves a little trigger warning. Just like this article.
Horns is sort of a thriller, sort of a supernatural horror, sort of a romance drama, and sort of obsessed with small towns and catholic guilt. It is sometimes serious as hell, sometimes goofy, and stops making sense altogether during the third act.
We follow the story of Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, whose name is actually hilarious when you consider that Daniel Radcliffe plays the role. Ig Perrish is in a very bad place when the movie begins. His fiancée, Merrin, has been murdered and guess who’s the main suspect? The local news and most of his entourage think he’s guilty, except for his brother Terry and his best friend and lawyer Lee. After one more night of drowning his pain in alcohol, Ig wakes up with demonic horns that force everybody around him to reveal their darkest secrets and obey their worst impulsions. What else would he do but using this to find his fiancée’s murderer?
One of the main problems with Horns is how inconsistent it is in tone. It starts out as really tragic, goes on to flirt with horror comedy, then becomes progressively darker and darker before getting back to horror comedy and tragedy at the very end. I spent most of the movie being thrown off by the abrupt changes in tone. It almost felt like watching several movies at the same time. Individually, each of the tones would have worked really well. Together though, they make for a messy flick.
When I try to think about what the filmmaker, Alexandre Aja, was trying to do, I wonder if he was just trying to be unpredictable. I’ve only seen one other movie by this filmmaker: the excellent High Tension. Judging from it, I’d say that keeping things surprising for the audience is one of his main concerns. That and making sure to gross the hell out of you. To be a little more serious, Alexandre Aja likes to bring the human subconscious to the front of his stories. He likes revealing humanity’s inner desires and darkness. He did this brilliantly in High Tension and you can definitely see it in Horns as well. Every time someone gets under the spell of Ig’s horns, you’re in for a treat. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s heartbreaking, sometimes it’s plain horrifying. Alexandre Aja is really good at reminding us that everybody has the potential to be awful. This particularly shows when the murderer’s identity is revealed but it makes for really neat scenes all throughout the movie. The problem here is that ultimately, you can’t make a whole movie out of people freaking out every time Daniel Radcliffe enters a room.
Daniel Radcliffe, by the way, does a really fine job in this movie. He is not always working off the best material possible but he certainly had fun with it. I enjoyed seeing him in this more than I did during the four last Harry Potter movies, although I still preferred his performance in The Lady in Black. Different genres, I know, but I just think that he rocks the victorian costume. Here, his american accent is not too shabby and someone found him the best-fitting pair of pants he’s ever worn on screen but unfortunately, it’s hard to fully appreciate an actor’s performance in a movie that’s as messy at this one.
I don’t want to repeat the word “messy” too many times but that’s really the main impression Horns left on me. On paper, the ideas are pretty good. The murder, the horror, the supernatural, all of those are engaging despite not being very original. However, they only come together in the scenes I already mentioned. The rest of the time, the movie does not really know what to do with its triple or quadruple genre and ends up being kind of confused and boring. It probably didn’t help that I guessed both the identity of the murderer and the final outcome of the movie after five minutes. The story is not very complex or revolutionary, although it does try to keep you away from the truth by not telling you anything. The writer probably thought that it was the best way to keep the audience on its toes but that’s not how it works. Thrillers and mysteries are not only about witholding information, they’re about which piece of information you withold and how you conceal it. You can’t just never tell your audience anything and then just drop the info on them like it’s a big twist. That’s not a twist. That’s just telling the story.
I’m getting to the iffy part of the movie now. Before I start, I’d like to remind everybody that this is purely my opinion and people don’t have to agree with it.
There’s a rape scene in this movie. It happens around the end of the second act, when Ig finally discovers the identity of the murderer. To be honest, it is kind of a shock, since they never tell us that Merrin has been raped. Earlier in the movie, there’s a shot of Merrin’s corpse that makes you wonder, for a second, if sexual violence is involved, but they never talk about it until the murdered proceeds to describe the rape to Ig while he is bashing his face in with a chain. Now, I’ll give kudos to the movies for one thing: rape, in this case, is actually presented as an act of domination and pure violence. It is not committed by a stranger but by someone that the victim knows and likes, although they then proceed to make him act like a complete nutcase, as if to say “don’t worry guise, he’s just that one weirdo!”. Still, movie, you can’t just drop rape on people, just like you can’t drop information at random moments and call it being suspenseful. The only things that are set up were completely predictable: the closeted gay guy, the pure girl that can possibly only have one love, and everybody in town being in love with that same pure girl. What does « pure girl » mean? I wouldn’t know. I guess it’s because she goes to church or something.
In conclusion, it feels like Alexandre Aja had ideas for a bunch of cool scenes and tried to tie them up together without caring much about the story. It’s a good effort, but the movie’s weaknesses outnumber its strengths by many. I hope that the book is actually good because unfortunately, the movie falls short.