Horns Movie Review 0 6

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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.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 198

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 222

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10