Daniel Radcliffe could not be doing more to dispel his Harry Potter image that so many movie fans still hold onto. From ages 12 to 22 Radcliffe personified the beloved children’s book character, but he’s moving on. He’s played beat icon Allen Ginsberg, he’s played a cynical romanticist, and he’s played a terrorized attorney. Based on the novel by Joe Hill, Horns, is truly the cherry on top of the typecast-busting sundae because no one will be thinking about Potter when they see this.
Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a local DJ who has been with the love of his life Merrin (Juno Temple) since they met in elementary school. The couple has a screaming match after she dumps him publicly. When she appears, raped and dismembered under the tree that both she and Ig loved it is no surprise that the number one suspect for this unthinkably violent crime is Ig. Even his own parents suspect he probably did it. He is hounded by the press and protesters outraged he has “gotten away” with murder, but Ig spends most of his time stuck in the bottom of a bottle.
The supernatural kicks in after a long night of hard drinking, and Ig, recovering from a hangover, wakes up to find horns growing out of his head. Yet these newfound horns are not without their virtues. Whoever did kill Merrin left absolutely no clues for Ig to parse through, but he soon discovers that these horns spur others to share their darkest impulses in a hypnotic state. Some of these sins are less egregious than others: a mom would like beat her bratty child is pretty tame compared to Ig’s dentist, who would like to get high on some pain killers and sleep with his nurse.
Interspersed between these moments of truth telling are callbacks to the beginning of Ig and Merrin’s relationship. The transition from all these different tones is crucial to the story as Joe Hill’s novel frequently switches from romantic to vulgar and then back to serious introspection but you wouldn’t know it from the adaptation. Alexandre Aja works primarily in the bloodier corners of horror (the major credits to his name are High Tension, The Hill Have Eyes and Piranha 3-D) and he excels at blood-letting, but Horns isn’t just about gore. Frankly, the bloody investigation is the least interesting aspect of it all given the killer’s identity seems telegraphed early on.
To waste such an interesting premise is a shame. Radcliffe makes it all look so easy walking the line between grieving boyfriend and monster, but some of the dialogue that comes out of his mouth is hard to ignore. Keith Bunin’s script drops the ball on establishing the romantic subplot central to the mystery later on, so everything that comes afterward doesn’t hit as hard as it could have. Unfortunately fans hoping for full-fledged horror will also be disappointed with the young adult novel nature of Horns. Granted the film is nowhere near as precious as something like Twilight, but the material never goes as far as Aja’s pedigree would suggest. When a character starts looking like a demon, you anticipate that things will be demonic instead of comically broad.
At two hours, Horns‘ running time is too long for all of its inconsistencies but a strong supporting cast made up of James Remar, Joe Anderson and David Morse help dull the blow. Daniel Radcliffe has pulled off a performance that will convince all who watch that he isn’t the chosen one anymore. Too bad Horns‘ writer and director didn’t meet him halfway.