Based on the novel by Joe Hill, otherwise known as Stephen King’s son, Horns is a widely misunderstood movie. Part black comedy, part mystery, part fantasy, this film incorporates elements from complimentary genres, weaving them together into a dense film. It never seems to end, in the best way; like finding out your favorite book has a sequel, this movie delivers more story than expected. Daniel Radcliffe’s acting shines in this ambitious film that might have faltered, otherwise.
The biggest complaint critics have of this film is the tonal differences and the genre-leaping pace. First, I refute the claim that this film flirts with the horror genre. Though growing horns may be a horrific happening, the most disturbing aspects of this film are those associated with mystery: the rape and murder of a young woman. The horns are more indicative of fantasy than horror because they evoke no fear nor dread in the audience. I found the fantastical elements as less hard fantasy than magical realism as they are the only supernatural part of an otherwise human story. Take the magical realism element out of this film, and you’re left with a very genre-appropriate whodunnit story of a young man trying to clear his name and find his girlfriend’s murderer. This film resists categorization; that is what gives it its charm.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as the disgruntled young man, Ig, who is accused of murdering his girlfriend. His portrayal saves this character from being a caricature; Radcliffe manages to make the audience believe that he would never have hurt his girlfriend, even while growing devil horns. The rest of the cast is seen only briefly, though Juno Temple seems otherworldly as Merrin, the murdered lover. Her ethereal lightness coupled with sharp intensity shows us why Ig could fall so deeply in love with this girl.
The horns themselves could be representative of many things, and though Christian imagery and mythology are strewn throughout the film, the meaning isn’t easily placed. Throughout the film, Ig (and the audience) wonders what the horns could mean. It is unclear whether Ig had turned into a spirit of hatred, vengeance, or if he was literally a devil. Though the ending doesn’t imply this, I believe Ig’s powers come from a spirit of justice. Not only does he have horns, Ig is also granted the ability of ultimate persuasion; strangers admit and give into their darkest desires and sins near him. This helps him in his quest to find the Merrin’s murderer. Ig uses his powers to find the culprit, but also punishes those who have done wrong in ways that fit the crime. He isn’t The Punisher. The powers could be a physical manifestation of how much he needs to find peace, how frustrated he has become in this situation, or could be a parting gift from his lost girlfriend. No matter the purpose, Ig is an ugly character who rights wrongs, even at his own expense.
The ending was the least impressive part of the film. I had been hoping for some intricate, unexpected explanation for the horns, and was disappointed by the one given. It seemed rushed, and the gathering of characters was forced. It had a bad case of the I-happened-to-come-to-this-exact-spot-too’s. That being said, I would still watch it again. Perhaps it is because I already like the fantasy genre, but it was a very enjoyable film. The book has already been ordered on Amazon, and I look forward to reading it.
I’d recommend this film to anyone who likes alternative takes on Christian mythology, telling ghost stories in a dense forest, or wonders what it would be like if Gone Girl were set in a fairy tale.