I knew I wasn’t going to stop watching this movie the second I saw a mid-Atlantic-accented, scruffy Daniel Radcliffe drink, chain-smoke and compel a group of reporters to “beat the shit out of each other” for an interview with him.
Horns was marketed almost a wee bit deceptively for my liking. The trailer played up that particular scene to make it look like a Misfits/Hancock-esque black horror comedy about a lovable douche with supernatural powers. And while there are some well-placed moments of dark humour, it’s really a dark thriller/tragic revenge story bearing welcome similarities to The Crow.
The story concerns Iggy Perrish, a young man who’s a grieving mess after the the mysterious death of his childhood sweetheart. What’s worse, he’s the prime suspect and is despised and ostracised by everyone in his tiny, rural hometown. After a bit of a bender, he wakes up one morning to find legit fucking horns growing out of his head. And if that wasn’t weird enough, said horns allow him to persuade people to do things, and to receive unfiltered confessions about all things evil, like a twisted version of Catholic confession.
Confession upfront: I haven’t read the book. I didn’t even know it was a book. I also didn’t know that it was written by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son (so now I have to seek out everything he’s ever written). So, as I continue to gush about this movie, including its flaws, it’s from a perspective unbiased by the apparently superior source material.
It wouldn’t be an Aja film without some stunning imagery, and Horns has it in, er, pitchforks. Or…evil spades. Some of it’s subtle (red neon lights outside of a jazz bar), some not so subtle (an eye-popping drug trip scene). And given the setting of rivers and mountains, the camera gets to perv quite a bit on some of that beautiful landscape.
Perhaps in the hands of a different director, the movie might have lost some of the Gothic mystery tone of the book. Perhaps it would have strayed into juvenile humour territory, rather than becoming an eerie, slow-burning character study about damaged, grieving, confused young townies. I do wish there’d been more of each character, as the first hour of this 2-hour film just follows Iggy as he wanders around town accidentally using his newfound powers, which looked like it was priming the movie to be a black comedy.
That’s where the movie gets its potential for black comedy, but it’s used sparingly, often in some pretty bleak moments, but without causing any awkward tonal shifts. While it’s fun to see the kid who once played Harry Potter say “fuck” a bunch of times and have European cinematic sex (i.e. it’s more realistic than a completely naked chick on top of a clothed guy), it’s far more compelling to see him give the performance of a broken young man who’s going through a period of grief over something one can’t imagine, and a physical transformation that one also can’t imagine. His character is deeply flawed, and both Radcliffe and his younger counterpart (bright newcomer Mitchell Kemmen) make the character rounded and wholly sympathetic. Crikey, what performances Aja eked out (again).
And so obviously I’m a sucker for these types of dark, emotionally resonant movies; it’s the only type of package in which my black little heart can take a romantic drama. It’s the same reason why I loved movies like Up. It also helps that this movie stars two of my favourites (Radcliffe and fellow Englishman Joe Anderson, who stood out in The Crazies), helmed by one of my favourites (who directed Prisoner of Azkhaban, my favourite of the Potter films), and set among some frankly gorgeous scenery in a small logging town. That, and an end result of a movie that could make me laugh, cry, and drop my jaw in terror all in the space of 20 minutes. Yes, all of those things.