It’d be easy to say this Daniel Radcliffe vehicle appeals to his target demographic of swooning teenage, post-Potter girls because it features the hunky dreamboat in a lightweight rom-com which happens to have him sprout devil’s horns in the movie. In some ways, one can imagine that those very cinemagoers will go into Horns expecting the sassy, female equivalent of Romeo & Juliet or Twilight.
For those of us who have seen the movie now will know is that whatever the price of the ticket you pay, it won’t be nearly as valuable as the look on the faces of those mothers who went with their daughters to see the film.
Why do I mention this? Well, it’s simply – Horns is not that film. Not really. At its very nucleus it is a love story; the story of a young man who is demonised (sort of) for the murder of his girlfriend, played by Juno Temple. There’s no doubt that something is afoot, and the “did he or did he not?” detective aspect of the story is quickly quashed. We follow our protagonist around on his quest to discover who actually killed her, and unmask them.
Now, because this is Alexandre Aja directing, this was never going to be straightforward fluffy, sort-of-edgy nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, it is nonsense – but there’s something bubbling underneath the sheen here which I think will have a longevity we’ve not seen since genuinely thought-provoking and gripping stuff since Stand By Me or, in recent memory, Chronicle.
Horns is a film that operates on two levels. One, as a detective story and, two, as a parable about love and death, angels and demons and good and bad – and the intrinsic locking of horns between two ends of the extreme. Horns borrows liberally from a great many other movies; the locket around the neck was the same McGuffin used in Shocker and countless Hitchcock movies, for a start.
What Aja brings to this movie, however, is a wacky tone that is unfettered in its casual approach to its own material. Horns never quite feels like it’s taking itself seriously, and it is to the film’s credit that it manages to step one foot in front of the other on this correct path, where others (Twilight etc) have failed. It’s very definitely, too, a film for a more mature audience. Not adults, necessarily, but certainly those teenagers and above who can get to grips with material such as this.
Horns is a vomitorium of gore and swearing – it’s always nice to see Harry Potter say the word “motherfucker” to his drug-addled older brother, and mean it – but it is also a gleeful carnival of creativity; the fact that it can set its parameters and play by its own daft rules. If it takes anything seriously, then it should be this; and it nails it.
The film shifts between present day and flashbacks, which will diminish the repeat viewing factor somewhat. At it’s core is a love story seeped in detective-based frolicks. Ig, played wonderfully by Radcliffe, will effectively learn about himself and others via one of the movie’s most audacious, yet very well handled, tricks; everyone confesses their deepest dark secrets to the horned one. In the hands of another writing and directing team (and indeed performers) this will have come across as cheap and laboured. In the hands of Radcliffe, Aja and writer Keith Bunin (working from the novel by Joe Hill) it seems perfectly natural and is a truly invigorating clique to the movie’s canon; it’s a bit like Liar Liar, but in reverse. And of course the lead character of Iggy Perrish could well have been played by Jim Carrey, if only this was 1990.
Horns is a tall, ugly tale and very well told. It’s a milestone in dunderheaded teenage drama – the film has been cut to secure a ‘15’ rating, and it’s easy to see why – and even easier to see the eventual DVD release featuring all the nastiness. Nevertheless, it’s a truly creative piece performed well by everyone involved.
Horns is an updated, cheeky twist on a story as old as time itself – which could well prove to stand the test of time, too.
Author: Andrew Mackay