By Shane M. Dallmann
Ig Parrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is enjoying an idyllic life and wonderful dreams of the future with his childhood crush and now long-time love Merrin (Juno Temple) as our story begins… but then Ig wakes up to the reality that he’s loathed by the population of the entire town which believes that he’s gotten away with Merrin’s brutal murder on a technicality.
No, this isn’t GONE GIRL, tempting as the coincidence may seem–this is actually a film made in 2013 but held back from release (and banished to the arthouses) till Halloween 2014. And the similarities end there.
Ig swears to himself and to anyone who will listen that he’s completely innocent and that he wishes he could inflict the punishment of the damned on the real killer (even as he curses God for allowing the devoutly religious Merrin to die in the first place). But the town sees him as the Devil… and if it’s a Devil they want, it’s a Devil they get. Not only does Ig grow to resemble the classic depiction of Lucifer himself (starting with, but not limited to, the title appendages sprouting from his skull), but his very presence strips all restraint and inhibition from (almost) everybody he encounters along the way, laying bare the latent sins, repressed feelings and urges of friends and family alike. But since every devil started as an angel? This phenomenon might be just what Ig needs to expose the truth behind the crime…
There’s certainly enough supernatural/horrific content and grisly violence to grant HORNS a prominent seat in this year’s “horror” crop, but as with all the best of them, there’s so much more to it. For instance, while the film can scarcely be called a “comedy” with such a ghastly story at its heart, it provokes plenty of wonderfully appalling laughter all the same as people act just as they truly WANT to act (best of all, perhaps, is a scene in which Ig puts paid to the train of TV reporters tracking his every move). There is also plenty of wrenching pathos and nostalgia to be had; not only in the story of the doomed romance but in the childhood flashbacks that provide plenty of insight into how Ig and his friends became the adults they are today–these flashbacks are arguably the best of their kind since STAND BY ME itself.
The acting is beyond reproach across the board–those remaining doubters who venture to HORNS will in all likelihood finally welcome the versatile Radcliffe as an actor with range well beyond a single young-adult fantasy phenomenon. Temple is heartbreaking in her limited role, and (I’m trying to avoid saying too much about any character here, so forgive me for being brief) the film also offers terrific supporting turns from such veterans as Heather Graham (a conniving waitress), James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan (Ig’s parents) and Robert Morse as the bereaved father.
Most remarkable of all is that this sincerely emotional, humorous AND exciting tale (adapted from a novel by Joe Hill) comes to us courtesy of director Alexandre Aja. Aja has demonstrated a knack for blunt-force trauma and raucous tastelessness time and again (HIGH TENSION, the HILLS HAVE EYES remake and PIRANHA 3D), but his was one of the last names I ever expected to see associated with such a provocative and heartfelt story; let alone the man responsible for evoking such winning performances. The man has matured most impressively as a total filmmaker, and the fact that the closing movement of the film COULD have been tightened to even greater effect doesn’t stand as even a slight roadblock to an enthusiastic recommendation from yours truly.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that pure-formula horror movies ranging from the decent ANNABELLE to the godawful OUIJA are cleaning up. But it’s a bloody shame that the public at large won’t lift a finger for such potent works as the coincidentally-titled TUSK and HORNS. If they’d bother to check them OUT, they’d probably LIKE them!
Don’t miss out.