Harry Potter becomes a goat (sort of…not really) “Horns”

October 9, 2014


Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel Horns isn’t exactly a horror movie. Instead, it’s more of a supernatural mystery, or perhaps an enquiry into gossamer-thin ties that bind us into a community, and the secrets we kept hidden to keep that community intact. Whatever it is, it was made by a horror director, and based on a book by Stephen King’s son, and I spent two hours watching it, so what the hell, it’s getting reviewed.

Horns follows down-and-out protagonist Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe)—a former small town DJ who lives somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, whose girlfriend, Merrin (a luminous Juno Temple) was murdered some time earlier. Since Merrin was bludgeoned to death in the woods shortly after she had publicly broken up with Ig, and since Ig has no alibi for his whereabouts beyond getting hammered to assuage the heartbreak, he is the number one suspect. The town treats him accordingly.

Please don't show us your wang again.

Please don’t show us your wang again.

One morning, Ig wakes from a bender to fine two stubby little ram’s horns spouting form his forehead. Weird, right? But even stranger is the fact that other people can’t remember seeing the horns when they look away from them, and also are compelled to divulge the ugliest, most abhorrent thoughts when in their presence. For example, Ig’s doctor explains that he’s really prefer to hoover up some Oxy rather than see his patients. A false witness against Ig tells him that she’s making up her story to milk some fame out of the case. Most heartbreaking, Ig’s parents admit that they really don’t believe he’s innocent.

"Yeah, no way your insurance covers this."

“Yeah, no way your insurance covers this.”

As Ig’s horns grow and curl, he embraces the metaphor beneath the horns (*coughDevilcough*), turning some of the more venal people in town against themselves and setting out to solve the mystery of Merrin’s death. As he does so, he struggles with his own capacity for violence, and his grief over Merrin.

And that’s pretty much it.

There is  a lot of canoodling in this movie.

There is a lot of canoodling in this movie.

Now, I haven’t read the novel Horns, but it has a pretty good reputation. Hill is on his way to establishing himself a chip off his father’s ol’ block, and one can see the possibilities contained in Horns’s premise. The idea of an ostracized murder suspect turning the tables on his accusers by delving into their most shameful thoughts is pretty delicious, and there’s a lot that can be done with it. I’m not sure what Hill does with the premise, but Aja doesn’t do much. For example, the waitress bearing false witness against Ig should be almost pitiable in her spiritual emptiness, her desire Internet fame betraying a pathetic bankruptcy of the soul. In the movie she’s just an overly made-up Heather Graham playing a broad white-trash stereotype.

"'Sup, Sltheren?"

“‘Sup, Slytheren?”

Likewise, the violent cops that harass Ig should betray a deep well of frustrated masculinity that can only express itself through brutality. But in the movie they’re both just closeted and want to suck each other off.  This movie could have been wonderfully insightful, but instead reaches for the laziest, low-hanging fruit available.

It was only a matter of time before those Harry Potter kids went bad.

It was only a matter of time before those Harry Potter kids went bad.

Much of Horns padded run time is spent developing the characters, and yet they’re just as ill-defined by the end as they were when we met them. Ig is never more than a whipped dog who grows some horns. Merrin is considered to be a perfect paragon of lovingness by everyone who knows her, but that’s mostly communicated by being played by Juno Temple and shot to be dewy in her every scene. Ig’s family, his relationships, they’re all explained but we never see evidence or examples of those bonds. As a result, a movie with love and loss as its engine is almost totally uninvolving.

Dan's really big into "Legend" cosplay.

Dan’s really big into “Legend” cosplay.

Maybe Alexandre Aja wasn’t the best choice of director for this project. His filmography to this point has pretty much been high-concept, low-substance shock-flicks: High Tension, Mirrors, Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes. If you want spurting blood, he’s your man. Personal stories, eh, not so much.  And this is a story that desperately needs a director of drama. Someone who can peel back the layers of his characters and expose the thorniness of their hearts. Aja…well, he just isn’t interested.

As a result, Harry Potter doesn’t acquit himself well. It’s hard to tell if that’s a reflection of Radcliffe’s abilities or just what he was able to do with what he was given. Either way, Ig is a hopelessly inert protagonist. Also, I have no fucking clue what they were going for in that climax. It looked like an episode of Dominion, and, ugh, who needs that?

How jaded do you have to be to look this bored with Juno Temple hanging off you?

How jaded do you have to be to look this bored with Juno Temple hanging off you?

Too bad, because Horns has the right skeleton for a great movie. Too bad it ended up in the wrong hands.


  1. I actually seen it very differently. It didn’t need to be some thought-inspiring, super-intelligent film for me to enjoy it. I don’t know why or how…but I had a blast watching this from beginning to end. Loved it!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t dislike it, but it felt like it could have been better.

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