Movie Review : Horns (2013)
On paper, everything made sense. Horns is a movie based on a Joe Hill novel, a reputable and talented bestselling author who also happens to be Stephen King's son. It is starring household names such as Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, professional what's his face guy David Morse and more. It is directed by Alexandre Aja, known for movies such as the crafty, yet predictably High Tension and the wildly successful reboot of The Hills Have Eyes. It's hard to argue against that much talent. Horns turned out to be a colossal piece of shit, though. It's poorly structured, manipulative, inexplicably sexy and manufactured and quite confusing as well. If you're looking for a so-bad-it's-good movie to watch with friends and (lots of) booze, Horns will give you more or less what you're looking for. Whatever you do, don't take this movie seriously. It deserves infamy.
The premise of Horns is interesting. I suspect the Joel Hill novel is also quite interesting, but the movie's execution has forever soiled the author's original intent. Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) used to be a normal kid until his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) is savagely raped and murdered on a stormy night. Everyone thinks he did it. He's grieving, miserable and one night he breaks a Virgin Mary statue and pisses all over Merrin's memorial in a fit of drunken rage. The following morning, Ig starts growing horns on his head, which gives him the mysterious power of extracting the darkest confessions from everybody he comes across. He understandably freaks out for an awkwardly long moment, but decides to finally embrace his gift and start investigating his girlfriend's murder using his newfound occult power.
Now, where do I start?
The problems with Horns are not with the story but with the execution. I "get" it. Ig grows horns that symbolize the fact he's being scapegoated by a terrified community looking for implausible closure after a traumatic event. The horns are a symbol of shame but also a weapon (like bull's horns) because they allow him to read into people guilt. Theoretically, this is golden. Horns is an insanely lazy movie that prioritizes style over substance, though and doesn't deliver the basic elements for a successful movie like, let's say, a coherent story! There is little to no insight offered on Ig and Merrin's relationship outside of his psychosexual fantasies * and their very last day together, it's never really explained why Ig has horns although I suspect the pointless snake-loving orgy scene has something to do with it because that's when Ig turns into demon Ig and Alexandre Aja never really gives you incentive to root for him outside the fact that he's been wrongfully accused of his girlfriend's murder. That's fine in itself, but there's about 1,000 other lazy movie who do that.
Daniel Radcliffe's Ig is such a sexy mess it's embarrassing. He's supposed to be a drunken trainwreck with a supernatural mutation in his face yet he's this pseudo-goth leather wearing, muscle car driving hunk for some reason. There is this scene where he makes journalists fight over a potential interview with him **, walks into a bar and interrogates people on Merrin's death. The bar owner confesses then that he wishes setting his business on fire and live off the insurance money, which he does. That entire scene exists for that one shot of Ig walking out of a smoky bar to Marilyn Manson's cover of Personal Jesus like some kind of badass supernatural detective. What the FUCK is that supposed to mean? Is this a horror movie or a commercial for Hot Topic? None of this looks particularly unpleasant outside of the scapegoatism. Horns feels like being trapped in the mind of a 13 year old goth girl.
Few movies use their soundtrack in a more manipulative way than Horns and I'm including the super duper manipulative Suicide Squad in that statement. The first scene of the movie shows Ig and Merrin having a picnic in a field or whatever, right? Then Ig wakes up looking miserable, walks into a room full of vinyls, puts David Bowie's Heroes on his turntable and starts fantasizing about Merrin. This is all the information we have, so far. It takes about 20 more seconds for the movie to allude to the fact she's dead. So, we're technically supposed to empathize with Ig because he can "feel" Bowie's music? That's bullshit. It's a lazy fucking narrative shortcut if I've ever seen one. And it's not the only one. Perhaps the most infuriating one is the use of the Pixies' hit Where is My Mind? during one of the long and pointless happy flashback scenes. What kind of emotion am I supposed to feel when hearing a song that belongs to another movie? I'm sure they paid the rights to it, but if you're going to borrow from another movie's soundtrack make sure you're not borrowing from one of the most influential movies in the modern age. It makes you look stupid if you underdeliver and it's definitely the case here.
Horns was a messy piece of shit but there was a good movie somewhere in there. The premise is great and I'm sure Joe Hill's novel also is. Alexandre Aja's adaptation is a pseudo-gothy, Hot Topic-friendly, poorly-wirtten, manipulative mess, though. The one thing Iiked about Horns is that it eventually makes peace with the fact it's irredeemably bad and the final scene goes into full B-movie mode. Lots of movies don't live up to their ending, but it's the only good thing about Horns and it somewhat makes it all worth the experience. It's that nuts. So, should you watch Horns? Probably not. I've watched in on a Saturday night looking for a movie to get upset about and it delivered big time, but I don't think you can earnestly enjoy this if you've successfully underwent puberty. I have no idea who this was showed to a studio executive with a straight face and prompted a "wow, it's really good movie. We're going to make millions," for answer. It's one of the mysteries that's going to stay on the virtual shelves of Netflix forever along with this movie.
* There's a fucking-your-dead-girlfriend-to-a-David-Bowie-song hallucinatory scene. You have been warned.
** Ig also has the power to make people act on their darkest impulses.