Within minutes of it’s idyllic opening of the young couple Ignatius Perrish and Merrin William happily in love on a bright summers day, director Alexandre Aja takes Horns deep under ground and literally turns the world upside down. In one of the most nauseating shots I have ever experienced, the world slowly rights itself as Ig wakes up from a night of heavy drinking. As he exits the house, dozens of reporters swarm him asking “why he did it.” Merrin has been found dead, and he is the prime suspect.
This is a fairly traditional set up. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, things appear to go south, girl ends up dead and everyone lays the blame squarely on him. But Horns isn’t a traditional film. There is the small matter of the horns that begin growing out of Ig’s head after another night of heavy drinking. His life had become a living hell, almost impossible to navigate with reporters everywhere and the people who’ve known him his entire life turning a cold shoulder. But if this is Hell, with the appearance of the horns he is now the master of it. The horns appear to give him a strange persuasive power, everyone starts to spill their guts to him, revealing their deepest darkest secrets and seeming inclined to do whatever he suggests. This is where the fun begins.
Horns is a bit of a throwback to kitchy B horror films, except this time the effects are a little slicker and the cast are people who you’ve actually heard of. At its core, however, Horns retains its cultish sensibility. It revels in the perverse, the weird and just plain ridiculous. Nothing, no matter how dark is taken too seriously, but nothing is ever dismissed as petty or small either. Even the ever prevalent religious symbolism doesn’t manage to bog the film down. In spite of the significance of crosses, horns, pitchfork, angel wings and some weird stuff with snakes, the film never gets preachy or alienates the non-Christians in the audience. Instead these symbols are used a short hand to delineate good and evil and then turn everything on its head. This is a world not everyone who wears a cross is a saint and not every devil sports horns, although sometimes they do. Even better, Juno Temple’s Merrin is not the stereotypical chaste ingenue. Instead she is shown, not as a passive, sexless figure, but as a real human being whom everyone loved like a saint. This is somewhat undermined as the circumstances around her death come to light, but it’s nice while it lasts.
Overall, Horns is an entertaining piece of cinema. It’s off the wall and fun, aided by the fact that Daniel Radcliffe is turning into a fantastic actor, who is not afraid to take risks and never takes himself too seriously. Juno Temple is just as good, giving Merrin a lightness and freedom, but also a deep-set venerability. Unfortunately, everything goes off the rails in the final act as things get a wee bit silly and very overly melodramatic. The balance between the twisted and the whimsical that makes the rest of the film so enjoyable is forgotten; Aja struggles to explain all the explainable events that led to Marrin’s death and the appearance of the horns. It was all probably better open-ended and unexplained, but we can’t have everything. The final scene and some pretty cool credits kind of make up for a disappointing climax, but it’s difficult to get over the extremely lame resolution. But fortunately, this only occupies the last ten minutes. The remaining 110 are well worth the price of admission.