Horns – Film Review
Sadly, Horns is not the follow-up I’d hoped for.
Daniel Radcliffe sure is cute, though, right?
TL;DR Tonally inconsistent, too long, basic, and dragged down by a seemingly endless middle section, Horns wastes the horror auteur talent of its director. A mighty effort from the cast and some shining spots at the start and the end help pull it from the trash pile. But barely. 3 out of 5 stars.
It’s really not that bad. It’s just also not very good. You know.
The plot actually kicks off with a wonderful premise: Daniel Radcliffe plays a man whose love-of-my-life girlfriend (the ever under appreciated Juno Temple) was recently found murdered after she unexpectedly dumped him, and the townsfolk and media suspect he did it. Frustrated by his demonisation, Daniel inexplicably grows devil’s horns, which cause the people around him to admit their darkest impulses, and ask his permission to enact their terrible desires. This is played for comedy until Daniel gets a little fatigued with the evil around him, and he makes the inspired plan to use the horns to seek out the killer (they’ll have to admit they killed Juno, right?). Eventually, it turns out Daniel’s best friend, Lee, had a rape-happy crush on Juno, killed her, tried to pin it on Daniel’s brother (a red herring who also longed for Juno), then, as he’s a lawyer, took on Daniel’s case to keep things locked down. Cunt move, dude. In the end, Daniel goes full devil mode and kills Lee before succumbing to his own fatal injuries and reuniting with Juno in the afterlife. Oh, and Juno dumped him because she found out she had super cancer and wanted to spare him the heartache.
Horns would have been on the ordinary side of disappointing up until the finale. The mystery was just salacious enough to keep going, despite the sugary sweet explanation and hammily evil revelation of Juno’s killer.
But then the finale happens, and things become gory and fantastic and off-the-wall. In typical, highly tense Aja style.
Where the hell was that for the rest of the movie?
Why I hate this movie:
Just a taste in the closing minutes isn’t enough. Especially when your very by-the-numbers romance mystery is clocking in close to the two hour mark.
The other major headscratcher is the tonal shift. When the horns first arrive on the scene, things are hilarious as Daniel is mortified and confused with all the sick shit people tell him and ask him to permit. Then he gets a few hard, dark truths from his parents, which provides some heavy mood whiplash, but is effective for emotion of the narrative. But Horns intermittently keeps trying to bring back the comedy. For example, when Daniel commands the two closeted police officers to have sex. Add on the amazingly melodramatic, reunited-in-death ending, and it’s clear Horns doesn’t know what it wants to be.
Not helping things is the similarly melodramatic, yet completely white bread, romance between Daniel and Juno. A series of unnecessary flashbacks hammer home just how perfectly in love these two were. It’s like a mini Nicholas Sparks movie inside the movie. Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple work hard to sell that shit, but it’s not the right place for it.
The resolution to the mystery of her breakup being “I had cancer” is so boring. Again, leave that to Nicholas Sparks, baby. That’s his winning formula. You don’t need it.
It’s exhausting that every single male character in the movie has an agonising love for Juno. Even Daniel’s dad admits he envies the love they had (though not necessarily sexually for Juno). Small town life is rough for a pretty girl.
I was slightly bothered that both the leads and one of the major supporting cast (Joe Anderson as Daniel’s brother) were all Brits putting on American accents. It’s a personal gripe of mine, so don’t take it too seriously. It’s just a thing that irks me.
On the other hand, Daniel can’t really hold onto his American accent. Did he take accent lessons at the same school as Rebel Wilson?
Oh, and once Daniel decides to fully embrace his wickedness, he gets revenge on his brother by forcing him to scoff a mountain of drugs (his brother’s a bit of an abuser). Yeah, he withheld evidence that could have cleared you of Juno’s murder, but that’s pretty fucking brutal to do to your own brother. Thank goodness he survived.
But it’s not all bad:
Not only does Big Bro survive, but he also brings the cavalry to Daniel’s final showdown with Lee. The cavalry ends up being monumentally useless, but it’s the thought that counts.
Aja brings his A-game to the finale. They only true gore we get to see in the movie is when Daniel and Lee are grappling with a shotgun, and their cop friend gets his head caught in the middle and spectacularly blown off. I did not see it coming. Good God, it’s glorious.
Daniel’s transformation into his Lava Devil form is CGI-laden, but there is a mighty effort given to the practical effects, too. I pity the horde of makeup artists who had to work on Daniel every day. Because the end product is magical.
The resolution of the mystery, while predictable and vanilla, is revealed in a kind of awesome way. Lee, up until this point, has been oddly dismissing Daniel’s claims about the horns because he can’t see them. Daniel assumes that Lee is too pure of heart, and therefore they mustn’t affect him. But au contraire, because it turns out Lee is wearing the crucifix necklace of Juno’s, and it’s been protecting him from the horns. Once it’s off, Lee is compelled to air his entire, sordid crush on Juno. He followed her into the woods the night she died, made his move, was rejected, raped her, and then crushed her head when she bit back. He then planted the murder weapon and Juno’s blood on Big Bro, who was sleeping/passed out in his car out on the road (he’d given Juno a lift from her breakup with Daniel, but she’d gotten out when he, too, had made a move). His confession also includes him trying to murder Daniel by burning him alive in his car, which Daniel then drives into a lake to save himself. Burn.
Daniel’s horn-affected encounters with his parents are effectively cruel. His mum tells him to go away because seeing him with all this shit about Juno’s death going on makes her sad. And she asks his permission to no longer consider him a son anymore. Things aren’t much better with his dad, who believes Daniel is guilty. He also had the forensics lab for the case burned down in an effort to help Daniel get off. Not out of love, but out of grim, familial obligation. Ouch.
Kathleen Quinlan is the mum, an Aja alumnus from The Hills Have Eyes. And James “I’m Papa Salvatore” Remar is the dad.
The comedic elements, shortlived though they are, are hilarious. They include a tired mother at a doctor’s surgery asking Daniel permission to bash her naughty child; the doctor’s receptionist asking Daniel’s permission to chew out the mum (which she does); Daniel commanding a group of vulturous reporters to literally fight each other for the right to an exclusive interview; and the liberation of two closeted police officers to finally experience man love.
I do love an isolated, small town mystery. With a bit less schmaltz, maybe.
Daniel Radcliffe looks hotter than ever. And despite the accent flubs, successfully drives the soppy emotion of the story. Juno, too, in her already-dead role. The Brass Teapot is one of the best movies I’ve seen in the past few years that didn’t make it onto I Just Hate Everything, and she continues to impress me.
Heather Graham steals a couple of scenes as a waitress who intentionally gives a false, damning witness report against Daniel for the night of the murder in the hope of becoming a famous, star witness during his trial. She gets a swarm of snake bites to the face for her deception.
Oh, and I appreciated that Horns didn’t waste too much time with exposition about the horns. Daniel has the requisite “What the fuck are these” sequence with the doctor, but once he realises how they work, he just rolls with it.
I hope Aja returns to straight-up horror sometime soon. He’s so good at it. But romantic drama comedy-ish supernatural mysteries? Not so much. 3 out of 5 stars.