Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, some Graphic Nudity, Disturbing Violence including a Sexual Assault, Language and Drug Use
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Keith Bunin
(based on the novel HORNS by Joe Hill)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, James Remar, Kelli Garner, Heather Graham, Joe Anderson & Max Minghella
Stephen King’s recent novels may be bloated and lacking the spark he once had, but his son (under the pseudonym of Joe Hill) has easily carried the torch on in his horror fiction. HORNS is a delightfully original, creative, darkly funny, and emotionally powerful novel that is absolutely worth a read. Alexandre Aja (known for specializing in the bloodier side of horror movies) brings this tale to screen in a great way for the most part. Aja’s remakes (MIRRORS, PIRANHA, THE HILLS HAVE EYES) may have been fun to differing degrees and HIGH TENSION remains a gore-soaked good time, but HORNS is his most grown-up work yet…in spite of a few problems that I’ll bring up later.
It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Ig Perrish was deeply in love with his childhood friend Merrin, but she was brutally raped/killed after a particularly painful breakup with Ig. Of course, Ig is prime suspect number one and the media circus hounding him haven’t helped matters at all. Everyone in Ig’s small town of Gideon believes that he is a murderer, but it’s clear that he really loved Merrin and would never do anything that horrible. One morning, Ig wakes up with a pair of horns sprouting from his head. As if this wasn’t already strange enough, no one around him reacts properly to seeing a man with horns on his head. Ig quickly finds that these horns provide him with an array of weird powers (e.g. having influence over people’s desires, viewing who they really are on the inside, and being able to control snakes). Using these to his advantage, the newly-horned Ig goes on the hunt for Merrin’s killer.
HORNS sounds like a goofy oddball blend of absurd fantasy and horror that could never be taken seriously in the slightest sense. This couldn’t be more wrong. A smart script based on a rather ingenious novel reveals through non-linear storytelling techniques that there are more layers to this tale than originally expected. At least a third of the film consists of flashbacks and memories that don’t feel cheesy or manipulative in the slightest. On the contrary, these glimpses into the past open new perspectives on characters and give a real emotional power to what is basically a drama with supernatural elements. I feel Stephen King’s most underrated work played drama first and foremost with horror elements in the background to move the plot forward (e.g. ROSE MADDER, DREAMCATCHER). Joe Hill does the same thing in his books and that’s a difficult thing to properly translate from page to screen, but Aja excels at it for the most part.
Adapting a novel into a film automatically calls for pieces of the story to be cut out for running time length. Unfortunately, some of the bits cut in this transition have left HORNS with a couple of minor plot holes. Also, certain scenes play better on paper than they do on-screen. The effects are top-notch for the most part, but there are a few brief moments where a bit of CGI looks a little too over-the-top and might elicit unintended chuckles. The narration from Radcliffe is a little cheesy as well, but he is amazing in the rest of the film as Ig. It may not be considered outright scary, but there’s no denying HORNS is a creative, refreshing, and original story.
Not only benefitting from fantasy and horror elements, HORNS is a pretty great time that also contains wickedly funny dark humor, an intriguing mystery, revenge and a very emotional love story. All of these qualities are combined into an smartly written tale full of complicated characters. HORNS is also a promising start to hopefully more Joe Hill adaptations soon to come (I pray someone does HEART-SHAPED BOX or NOS4A2 soon). Judging from the rather piss-poor big screen choices this Halloween season, it seems that all of the quality choices lie on Video On Demand. HORNS should be on your agenda to watch before or on Halloween!