For much of its running time the new film “Horns” has the kind of over-the-top black humour And easy vulgarity of a Stephen King adaptation from the 1980s. It’s not by accident either. It’s in its genes. You see, it’s based on a novel by Joe Hill, eldest son of Maine’s most famous writer of horror fiction.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a young man accused of killing his longtime girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). His life has been turned upside down. Protestors with signs that read, “You Will Burn in Hell!” and reporters camp outside his home twenty-four seven and the only people who think he’s innocent are his family and his lawyer and best friend Lee (Max Minghella).
One morning Ig wakes up to discover the disapproval of the world and the hangover he’s fighting aren’t the worst things happening in his life. In the night big, dark devil horns have sprouted from his forehead. “They hurt like hell,” he says.
He soon discovers the horns prompt people to tell him their deepest, darkest desires. “I hate mommy,” says a little girl in a doctor’s office. “I want to burn her in her bed with matches!” This newfound honesty is occasionally hurtful—“She was my favorite thing about you,” Ig’s father says about Merrin—but also provides helpful information in Ig’s search for his girlfriend’s true killer.
“Horns” is a tricky story to bring to the screen. It’s admittedly very visual—the sight of Harry Potter with devilish goat horns crowning his head is memorable for sure—but tone wise it’s all over the place. Director Alexandre Aja gear shifts through Ig’s range of emotions in present day and flashback, without ever making us care that much about his situation, past or present. It’s not exactly a horror film, or a romance or even a murder mystery. Instead it’s a movie that feels like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from another puzzle forced in to fit.
The idea, I suppose, is to present a story that defies any of its genre inspirations, but the result is an unholy mix; a lackluster fable that fails to mine the material for subtext or a moral, and leaves the audience with very little sympathy for this devil.