Whether it’s a meticulous plan or just taking on unique roles, Daniel Radcliffe has successfully managed to distance himself from his world famous role as Harry Potter. ‘The Woman in Black’, ‘Kill Your Darlings’ and most recently ‘What If’ have shown his versatility as an actor and his latest turn is without a doubt is boldest yet.
In the film based on the novel by Joe “Son of Stephen King” Hill, Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a young man who, in the aftermath of his girlfriend’s brutal and mysterious death, wakes up to find he has bizarrely grown a pair of horns from his temples. Understandably bewildered by it, he soon notices that the horns seem to have the effect of people saying exactly what they’re really thinking whenever they’re around him while nobody seems to be particularly bothered about his strange new deformity. He then decides to use his “gift” to try and find out who really killed his beloved.
‘Horns’ is being rather mis-sold as more of an outright horror film than it actually is. Firstly it’s directed by Alexandre Aja, a director known for extremely violent horror movies like ‘Switchblade Romance’ and the remakes of ‘Piranha’, ‘Mirrors’ and ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. He’s also known as a member of the “Splat Pack” group of directors that also includes Darren Lynn Bousman, James Wan, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie. So genre fans will immediately see his name and expect more of what he’s known for.
Secondly, the posters and trailers have generally played up the horned horror angle. But it’s actually more of a bleak and dark comedy when it comes down to it, concerned less with on-screen graphicness – although there is some of that, often accompanied by ropey CGI – and more with morbid humour and the interactions between its odd array of characters.
It’s a film with a “stick that in your pipe and smoke it” wacko premise that grabs your attention from the get-go. Unfortunately it never quite does enough with that idiosyncratic concept to take it to any sort of memorable level. The idea of people suddenly blurting out what they really mean is similar to that of the forgetful Ricky Gervais comedy ‘The Invention of Lying’ from a few years back but that angle is regrettably glossed over. They are very funny when they do appear; one scene in a doctor’s waiting room in which a receptionist wishes a mother would take her screaming child outside so that she doesn’t have to listen to it any more is particularly hilarious, but unfortunately they are few and far between.
It benefits from a strong cast that includes the ever-quirky Juno Temple as the murdered girlfriend who appears in flashbacks; Joe Anderson as Ig’s helpful brother; Max Minghella as the understanding childhood friend; and particularly the always brilliant David Morse as the girlfriend’s bereaved and vengeful father who adds a lot of depth and pathos to the film. But it’s the lead performance by Radcliffe that holds the film together, bringing colour and likability to a potentially unsympathetic role. He is our anchor throughout a tonally inconsistent film, clearly having a lot of fun as he takes the role and the charmingly oddball premise by the *ahem* horns and runs with it.
‘Horns’ is many things; a deliciously dark horror comedy, a murder mystery, a story about young love brutally torn apart, an exploration of religion and morality, a bleak look at people’s true intentions and, most importantly, not the utter horrorfest people might be expecting. It never quite probes the depths of its ideas to any great degree and has a bit of an identity crisis trying to be too many of those things at once but it gets major points for being ambitious enough to try. It may have a jet-black heart at its centre but it’s ultimately a beating one.
This review was previously published on Scotcampus.