Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella
Watch Horns online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Just as Franz Kafka offered us the lunacy of life as a scuttling beetle, Horns’ central premise would appear to muse on the concept of stepping into Satan’s shoes for a day. For that’s precisely the burden which falls upon poor, hunted Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), blamed for his girlfriend’s murder and now waking up one dreary morn with a couple of horns growing out of this forehead. An intriguing concept, to be sure, and one rich in promise with the discovery that these horns not only grant its user the ability to mine mankind’s darkest desires but also, more crucially, make those poor souls act on them.
In Horns’ most interesting moments, Ig realises that his powers drive everyone he meets to spill their ugliest secrets before looking up to him with wide, desperate eyes, asking their new master for permission to indulge. Please Ig, can I stuff my face with donuts to muffle the cries of my low self-esteem? Please Ig, can I take a dump on my ex-boyfriend’s car seat? As our protagonist first realises this strangest of new abilities, we’re offered a glimpse into a black comedy that everyone and their hamster would label as “wickedly playful”; finding the perverse pleasure in turning your entire backwoods hometown into a life-size edition of The Sims.
A morally fragile man would surely go mad with such power – which would be a real shame for him, but a treat for the audience. Yet, unfortunately, our Ig is made of rugged, heroic stuff, and the horn’s own abilities seem to conveniently mutate into something far nobler: a kind of truth serum. So Ig starts playing Satan’s Sherlock Holmes and attempts to hunt down his girlfriend’s killer, dutifully tracking down every suspect or informant and drilling them with his magical truth-horns.
It’s in this moment the movie becomes a slog, seeming to deny the inherent ludicrousness of its own premise in favour of bland, sincere whodunit. Ig gets to stand around, while each supporting character is granted their own monologue of internal motivation, each time delivered with the kind of misplaced enthusiasm that would usually put you at risk of pulling a facial muscle. The technique might have worked if this movie were consistently attempting comedy, yet here it just comes off like a case of poor fringe theatre – something that’s not particularly helped by the casting of Radcliffe, whose unrelentingly earnest presence made him a perfect match for the naïve upstart of Broadway’s How to Succeed in Business, yet here strikes an odd note against the film’s determined tonal gloom. Although the construction of his character is conflicted, a self-labelled outsider whose flashbacks paint him as the charismatic leader of his own gang of friends, Radcliffe’s monologues bear just a little too much perky expressiveness for the situation.
But raise your hand to ask any questions of this film’s logic and you’ll be rewarded with a slap in the face. Which is cruel for a movie which has rejected the enigmatically surreal for the cold facts of criminal investigation. Why exactly did this teenager in particular start growing horns out of his head? Slap. Why, in the third act, does everyone’s motivations and personalities suddenly and dramatically change? Slap. The credits roll, and that initially charismatic black comedy fades into the recesses of lost dreams.
Horns is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
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