Horns review

All good films get two things right: pace and tone. You can have the most gorgeous visuals, best performances, incredibly well-written script, but if the director doesn’t keep the movie moving forward with a consistent feel, it can all fall apart. Alexandre Aja‘s Horns is a textbook example of this.

Based on a revered novel by Joe Hill (the son of Stephen King), Horns tells the story of a man named Iggy. Played by Daniel Radcliffe, Ig’s accused of killing his long time girlfriend (Juno Temple). His whole Northwestern hometown is sure he did it and, in his despair, Ig mysteriously begins growing a pair of horns. The horns give him incredible powers, and Ig uses them to try and solve the murder.

Right there, you can tell this is going to be difficult. How do you make a murder mystery with religious overtones, a pop sensibility, humor, and Harry Potter? The truth is there’s no real answer as Aja’s film combines lots of strong elements that never quite come together in a cohesive manner.

Before we continue, a disclaimer. I’ve never read Hill’s book. I’m coming at this totally fresh. So Horns begins with this idea of a wrongfully accused man. That’s a familiar, welcome conceit. Then you add the horns, which are more or less just taken at face value by everyone in the film. That’s certainly the best way to deal with such an odd idea, but it does begin the odd decisions. We then find out the horns make people reveal their deepest, darkest secrets. This has funny, sad and frightening results. Again, there’s lots going on here and the audience is just forced to go with it.

As we start to take this ride, wild as it may be, the film slowly adds a sporadic narration. It also goes into several extended flashbacks. The narration feels out of place, and while the flashbacks are essential to the plot, they feel almost arbitrarily stuffed into the present day narrative. Each one is jarring and makes the film feel like its taking an unnecessary detour.

As Iggy, Radcliffe does an admirable job as a leading man. However, something always feels distant about his performance. My guess would be it’s the American accent. Audiences who don’t know Radcliffe is British would certainly be fooled by the accent but, to me, it felt like he was thinking about his voice 65% of the time and the other 35% was thinking about the performance. That’s not to say it’s a bad performance. There are actually some great scenes and choices by the actors, everything just has an odd sheen over it.

Even something as simple as Aja’s music choices give the film an odd distance from the audience. Songs like Heroes by David Bowie or Where is my Mind by The Pixies are so iconically linked to other movies and works that their inclusion doesn’t provide the emotional connection they’re going for.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, it still has a level of enjoyment that runs through it. The playfulness that’s part of the movie works very, very well. It just gets buried in everything else that’s going on in the movie.

You’d like to think Horns should be better than it is. However, the material is so challenging, it probably would’ve been impossible to make something better. Ultimately it’s a flawed yet functional film.

/Film rating: 5.5 out of 10

Horns played as part of both Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas and Beyond Fest in Hollywood, CA. It opens everywhere on Halloween.

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.