With director Alexandre Aja trying to shake off his horror roots, and Daniel Radcliffe still doing his best to lose the boy wizard tag, Horns is a film with a lot riding on it. It has moments of broad comedy side-by-side with horror, romance alongside religious iconography, it both condemns and condones violent retribution. Essentially, it’s a film that, at times, doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.
But when it hits upon something that works, it scores big. When innocent murder suspect Ig (Radcliffe) first sprouts horns, a trip to the doctor’s surgery takes a blackly hilarious look at the inconvenient side of compelling people to tell their deepest truths. When Aja revels in the guilt-free distribution of poetic justice, there are some gory and impressive set pieces. Radcliffe shines both as the bewildered, newly behorned Ig and as the devilish persuader.
But where Radcliffe – and the film – falls down is in the turn towards a moral core. We see Ig grieve for girlfriend Merrin, but there’s little sense of his truly troubled soul. Joe Anderson, who plays Ig’s brother Terry, turns in a brilliant performance wrought with the sort of inner turmoil that would have been better suited to Ig.
The film is also entirely predictable, even for people who haven’t read Joe Hill’s original book. There’s not a single plot twist that isn’t sign-posted half a mile back.
That said, the film is really enjoyable. It looks great, adopting a tone somewhere between magic realism and the Gothic. Ig’s horns and costume combo are the stuff of a cosplayer’s fantasy and the cinematography is gorgeous. It sounds great too, with a soundtrack ranging from Bowie to Manson.
Juno Temple is underused, but as luminous as the dead girlfriend is generally supposed to be. Radcliffe continues to grow as an actor, and makes for a charismatic, easy-to-root-for leading man. Horns gets slightly lost and finds itself at an overly convenient ending, but along the way it has an awful lot of fun – and makes room for pathos, too.