Iggy (Daniel Radcliffe) is in mourning for the death of his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) who was raped and murdered. He is hounded and reviled as the whole town thinks he killed her. After a particularly heavy night of anger, self-loathing and drinking, Iggy urinates on a candlelit memorial for Merrin. He wakes up the next morning with a hangover and a pair of horns sprouting from his head. The horns seem to have a strange effect on those around him, making them confess impulses and their deepest secrets. Iggy decides to use his new horns to find out who really killed the love of his life.
Alexandre Aja adapts Joe Hill’s, son of Stephen King, novel for the screen with varying but mostly positive results. Daniel Radcliffe is excellent as the angry and grief stricken Iggy, including a spot on American accent that never wavers, here taking another step into darker territory, post-Potter, allowing you to stay empathetic with him even as he starts to indulge his more demonic side. I think it is very safe to say that Radcliffe has graduated from his most well-known role and has found himself as quite a versatile actor. Juno Temple also does well as Merrin, in what feels a little like a slightly underwritten role, as she mostly just gets to be an object of wonder and happiness for Iggy, but she is allowed to stretch herself a little more towards the end. Their relationship thankfully works well, feeling fairly natural and true and gladly not falling into schmaltz. Aja directs fairly well, only a couple of times falling over and making what feel like slightly amateur choices, but Horns is happily still a world away from previous films such as the woeful Piranha 3D. Aja manages to create some good images, Iggy slowing down Bowie’s Heroes as he looks at the reporters on his yard, a trippy drug sequence, a happy memory flipping into an unhappy reality, and has curated a fun soundtrack.
Horns reaches out for a lot of different genres but only manages to lightly tread in them rather than plant its feet firmly inside. This may in part be due to the difficult nature of trying to put these different genres together, causing them to jar. The horror is never really scary enough, the black comedy is never really funny enough, the emotional beats rarely hitting hard enough until the end. But that’s not to say that there isn’t anything that works; it frightens at least once, elicits a few chuckles, and some emotional response, especially Iggy and Merrin’s last moments together and when Iggy finds out the burden he is on his family, just not enough to push it up to the next level. The film has a great premise and the mystery is fairly well handled, even if the killer’s identity seems to stem from some leftfield and unexpected behaviour, and the film does remain entertaining, only feeling a little stretched during its two hour running time. The production design is very good, as are the performances, it’s just that perhaps the film feels a little disappointing overall in comparison to the source material and its story set up potential.
Occasionally silly and it never quite firmly grasps the genres it reaches for but Horns is entertaining for most of its duration. It’s Aja’s best film in a while, but he is yet to live up to the promise of his brilliant Switchblade Romance.