HORNS. Radcliffe in the Adaptation of Joe Hill’s Book

What remains of the film “Horns”? Above all, Radcliffe’s performance.

Lukasz Budnik

21 December 2023

Calling “Horns” an ambitious failure, I would like to say two things about this film. Firstly, that this genre mishmash of horror, fantasy, black comedy, romance, and crime is intriguing and unconventional in itself, a risky project with great potential. Secondly, however, it didn’t succeed, or at least didn’t succeed completely. It’s worth praising the film and its creators for their courage, not necessarily for the end result, which falls far short of success.

When young and beautiful Merrin (played by Juno Temple) is raped and then murdered, her long-time boyfriend, Ig Perrish (played by the unshaved Daniel Radcliffe for most of the film), becomes the prime suspect. The small-town community quickly passes judgment, even though there is no evidence of his guilt, and Ig himself does not admit to the crime.

The twenty-something quickly descends into cursing even God himself, and after one drunken night, he wakes up to discover that horns have grown on his head. Initially small horns that don’t surprise anyone, but they make even strangers open up to the protagonist, revealing their hidden and unpleasant secrets. Even Ig’s parents, usually supportive, don’t hesitate to confess their contempt for him. With such power, the young man decides to find Merrin’s real murderer and mete out devilish justice.

Alexandre Aja’s film is based on Joe Hill’s book, the son of the famous Stephen King. Hill has his own style, especially evident in his excellent short stories, and “Horns” is an example of how good and different from his father he is as a writer. However, what worked in the book, the mix of genres and conventions, comes across as awkward in the film. Aja has no problem with tone in individual scenes, making it enjoyable when Ig makes journalists fight over an interview with him or convinces two police officers to confess their homosexual fantasies. Dramatic scenes also work well for the director, especially the main character’s conversations with his family and the father of his murdered lover. However, when he puts these scenes side by side, the horns consist only of such risky changes in tone.

Aja is known for creating very bloody horrors (such as “High Tension,” the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes,” and the campy “Piranha 3D”), and his new film may be a surprise to many fans of his work. In this film, he doesn’t emphasize violence (although it’s not absent), focusing instead on a slowly unfolding story and an interesting narrative and genre baggage. Even if his attempt is hard to classify as successful, he deserves praise for the perfect casting of Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role, carrying the entire film. The young actor flawlessly navigates every scene, balancing between tragedy and comedy, serious drama of guilt and loss, and fantasy, where from scene to scene, his character increasingly exploits his demonic powers. It’s thanks to him that the viewing of “Horns” is hard to categorize as unsuccessful. Radcliffe, with his entire presence, makes us realize what this story would be in the hands of a much more skillful director.

I like the elements that make up Hill’s story and the direction it takes. It’s a shame that Aja doesn’t seem to grasp this. Numerous flashbacks seem forced, and it doesn’t help that we have to wait almost until the very end for the answer to who killed Merrin, while in the original, Ig discovers the murderer fairly quickly. “Horns” is largely a bloody tale of a modern devil taking control, whether we are decent people every day or not. The beast is in each of us; some just hide it better than others. Aja excels in moments when characters show their less friendly side; then the screen overflows with venomous laughter. But the deeper we go into this sick world, the more clearly we see that there is nothing at its end. The director of “Piranha 3D” is only concerned with a spectacular finale, with a transformation into a genuine devil and the resolution of a criminal intrigue, but instead of reflecting on where Ig Perrish’s soul has ended up, he chooses to go in circles. The final scene may be an answer to the question posed earlier, but then the Frenchman cannot escape the accusation of kitschiness and banality. Either way, it’s not good.

What remains of the film “Horns”? Above all, Radcliffe’s performance, expertly choosing post-Potter roles. The gloomy atmosphere also works in favor of the dark story, in which fortunately, black humor doesn’t kill the seriousness but rather strengthens it. The horned Ig introduces a lot of chaos into what seems to be a peaceful town, although, in reality, all the evil that comes to the surface is deeply rooted in its inhabitants. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the famous “Twin Peaks,” but Aja is not David Lynch. He sees devils, angels, and snakes but doesn’t really know where they’re supposed to go. Probably to a better movie.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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