“Horns” is an overlooked film perfect for post-Oscar viewing this month or next
The intervening months between Oscar season and summer blockbusters are the best times to catch up on smaller films from the previous years that either never made it to theaters here or, in some cases, never made it to theaters at all. With the advent of On Demand video, there is a wealth of good, independent movies most people would never get a chance to see otherwise.
On Demand is filling the void left by vanishing brick-and-mortar video stores, at times surpassing the former direct-to-video in terms of quality. Films like these can occasionally make enough money to draw bigger names, creating film experiences simply not present in the major market releases. Instead of wasting money on the meager leftovers that Hollywood is contractually obligated to release, February is a great time to look for something special.
One film that fits this category is an overlooked Daniel Radcliffe vehicle based on the Joe Hill novel “Horns.” Hill is the son of the Stephen King, a name synonymous with horror stories, a writer whose stories are almost always spun into a film adaptation. Both writers have similar styles and subjects—the weird, frightening, and thrilling tend to round out their wheelhouse.
Yet, while King seems to become more and more long-winded, Hill is still early enough in his career to be plot-focused, telling his stories in a more concise and straightforward way. This isn’t to say the prose is plodding; Hill uses plenty of literary techniques, like flashback, to flesh out his stories. It’s simply that he hasn’t quite fallen in love with the sound of his own voice yet.
In much the same way, director Alexandre Aja directs the film adaptation of “Horns” with quick pacing, much faster than the novel, while maintaining many of the important pieces of the story.
Aja is known for films like “High Tension,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” and “Piranha 3D.” The latter is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. However, perhaps because of the strength of the source material, “Horns” is more than passable as a quality film. It tells the story of a young man who awakens after a night of doing terrible things to find he has inexplicably sprouted painful, burning horns from his forehead.
Much of the film is more rooted in fantasy than horror per se, especially the gore-driven sub-genre often found Aja’s previous films. “Horns” is more a murder mystery and less an excuse to disembowel as many minor characters as possible.
Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), the story’s cuspate hero, is haunted by the brutal murder of his girlfriend. He was accused and ultimately eliminated as a suspect, but the townspeople “know,” as they always do, that he was the real murderer. Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) was the town’s beauty and heart, especially for those that knew her, and justice has still not been served.
After Ig’s night of debauchery and evil, after the horns have revealed themselves, after Ig discovers that their presence causes people to confess their deepest sins and desires to him, he uses his newfound powers to begin a search for the true killers of his lost love. Much of the film is simplistic in the treatment of its themes. Evil and good are not quite as rooted in gray as they are in the book. Neither does the film play as much with the religious imagery found in Hill’s novel.
If Hill’s novel is fairly straightforward, the film is direct in a way that is nearly detrimental. However, the performance by Radcliffe and the entertaining nature of the story itself saves the film from being easily dismissed.
Joe Hill writes much like his father. This is not a bad thing, nor is it a criticism. If anything, Hill has a unique take on the similar themes found in King’s works. Hopefully, he will be as prolific. In a world where sequels and reboots are the driving force behind Hollywood creative teams, it’s good to know that there are still artists out there that can tell a unique and original story.
Films like “Horns” need more support so that the rest of the year doesn’t become like February and March.