When Iggy Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) promised to love his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) for the rest of his life, she replied “Just love me for the rest of mine.” That life turned out to be cut tragically short when she was brutally murdered. Iggy himself is the chief suspect: hounded day and night by the local press, publicly blamed by Merrin’s distraught father (David Morse), and suspected even by his own parents (James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan), only his lawyer (Max Minghella), Lee, believes him to be incapable of killing. “You don’t think I’m capable of murder?” Iggy fires back, bitterly. “Just put me in a room with the guy who really killed her.”
Devastated by Merrin’s death, Iggy gets blind drunk one night, and when he wakes up the next morning, horns – actual, honest-to-goodness ram-slash-devil horns – have sprouted on his head. Panicked, he heads to the doctor’s surgery, where he finds that nobody seems to care much about the horns: however, everyone is eager to reveal their innermost thoughts and most wanton desires. Already devastated by his girlfriend’s murder, and shocked to the core by his new forehead furniture, Iggy now has a new issue to deal with:everyone in the town seems to have lost their damn mind. With no help from his doctor, the local priest, or his own parents, Iggy finally turns to his lawyer friend Lee… only to discover that he can’t see Iggy’s new protuberances. Could it be that only those who believe Iggy to be evil incarnate see him as the devil undisguised?
As anyone familiar with Joe Hill’s novel will know by now, all of the plot details are present in Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Horns, and there’s no doubt that Daniel Radcliffe is inspired casting – and diabolically good – as the pale, hollow-eyed, jittery twentysomething whose life has come crashing around his ears. The special effects are also terrific, which is helpful because films of this specific kind (dark fantasy/magical realism) are often dependent on seamless special effects in order to maintain suspension of disbelief. Yet there’s something lacking in the movie version of Horns, and the blame lies both with Keith Bunin’s pedestrian screenplay – which largely ignores the subtextual substance of Hill’s novel in favour of a reductive this-happens-then-this-happens reading (a fate which often befalls adaptations of books by Hill’s father, Stephen King); but also with Aja’s direction, which turns what could have been a magical realist tale to touch The Fisher King into something that feels more like an episode of Grimm or Once.
For fans of the novel, the film’s failings are doubly disappointing, so it’s difficult to know whether to recommend reading the book before seeing the film, or let the film stand, albeit unsteadily, on its own two feet. Either way, it’s worth seeing just for Radcliffe, who savesHorns from the flames of critical opprobrium with yet another performance of substance, conviction and tremendous heart.
David Hughes (@DavidHughesTwit)