The problem with most “young adult” novels — not to mention their subsequent film adaptations — is that they’re made exclusively for teenagers, often at the expense of anyone over the age of 20 who happened to purchase a ticket. (For every Hunger Games, there are way too many Divergents.) Producers may consider it counter-productive to combine “YA” themes with actual “grown-up” horror film components, and so we simply don’t get a whole lot of movies like Alex Aja’s Horns — a deeply romantic dark comedy/revenge thriller/straight-out horror flick that will work for 15-year-olds and ancient horror freaks at the same time.
Daniel Radcliffe (light years from Harry Potter) plays Ignatius Perrish, a sweet guy who is still madly in love with the girlfriend he is presently accused of killing. As played — via flashbacks — by the stunning Juno Temple, Ig’s lovely Merrin is the heart, the soul, and the spirit of the film. At its most basic, Horns is a “whodunnit” in which Ig must piece together some clues while doing all he can to avoid the attention of numerable suspicious characters.
Virtually everyone in town believes that Ig killed Merrin in a fit of jealous rage, but the viewer (probably) knows better, and even at its most conventional, Horns manages to bring a strong sense of style and off-kilter wit to the sections dedicated to clues, hidden secrets, and juicy red herrings. But the film is at its best when it manages to combine a sincere and rather touching portrait of “young love” with a dark, devious, and frequently amusing gimmick.
And the gimmick is right there in the title: Horns introduces us to Ignatius and his various friends, family members, and related townsfolk; it slyly delivers the exposition regarding the tragic murder of Merrin; and then our anti-villain grows a thick and creepy-looking PAIR OF HORNS from his forehead. The horns have a fascinating effect on everyone Ig talks to: most people simply drop their inhibitions and speak up in a frank, honest, and disconcerting fashion. Others see Ig’s horns and immediately fall prey to their most basic instincts. So yeah, Horns has quite a bit of sex, violence, and pitch-black humor…
All of which serve to make the core of the film (that’d be Radcliffe and Temple) shine. The couple don’t share all that many scenes together, what with Merrin being dead when the film begins, but when they do share the screen, the result is simply fantastic. Toss in a great supporting cast that includes James Remar, Joe Anderson, David Morse, Kathleen Quinlan, Max Minghella, and Heather Graham, and Horns hits the screen feeling like half an indie, half a slick studio film, and an unexpectedly satisfying movie on the whole.
And I didn’t even cover the great music, the scene-stealing work from an actor named Kelli Garner, and a few Stand By Me-style flashbacks that actually complement the main story in clever fashion. Kudos as well to first-time screenwriter Keith Bunin for turning Joe Hill’s celebrated novel into its own film, and not a paint-by-numbers transliteration of the source material.
P.S. Daniel Radcliffe is simply great here. If you’re expecting this guy to remain “Harry Potter” forever, prepare to be disappointed.[We’ve republished our review from this year’s Fantasic Fest. Horns is in theaters now.]
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