Overview: After his girlfriend is murdered and he is accused of the crime, Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) wakes up to find two horns growing from his forehead which give him supernatural powers of persuasion. Dimension Films; 2014; Rated R; 120 Minutes
Rad: Can everyone stop acting so surprised every time Daniel Radcliffe turns in a good performance? It’s time for us all to stop putting his entire career in the context of Harry Potter. I understand the impulse, of course. When a kid plays the same role in movies for a decade (especially when it’s his first major on-screen appearance), it’s hard to separate them from it once they grow up, and easy to dismiss them as an untalented child star. If nothing else, Horns should squash the last Radcliffe dissenters, because his performance is the best thing about it. He has to deal with very adult emotions here, but there’s not a false note to be found. His American accent is a little rocky (he tends to put too much emphasis on particular sounds, so his voice sounds something like a parody of an American), but it doesn’t get in the way of his expression. Ig Perrish is a dark and troubled man, and Radcliffe dives into that darkness headfirst. And now that he’s done that, he should have enough distance from Potter to pursue an actual career.
Perception: In light of that, I really wish Horns was a better film. Director Alexandre Aja does respectable work, successfully translating some of the script’s odder ideas. Part of the power of the horns is that no one who sees them can comprehend how strange they are, so Aja shoots them like they’re a natural part of Ig’s head. It’s a subtle visual touch, but the script isn’t interested in subtlety. The fact that no one cares about the horns seems like a cheat to get around explaining them. It’s amusing enough to be forgivable, but that’s not the only thing they do.
Laziness: The horns also compel people to tell Ig their most closely-guarded secrets, which in the early going means that everyone Ig sees tells him how much they loathe him. It’s a way for the film to get away with having characters explain what they’re thinking and feeling out loud. If the film had made deceit and duplicity its themes, maybe this would have worked. As it stands, it’s just lazy exposition, which Horns has plenty of throughout. It’s also tonally confused, unsure if it wants to be an oddball black comedy in the vein of Twin Peaks or a supernatural-horror-thriller in the vein of…well, other parts of Twin Peaks. Unlike that show, Horns never finds a way to either coherently integrate the two atmospheres or make peace with its divided nature. It’s a film with a serious identity crisis.
Wrap-Up: Horns is sunk by its lazy script, but Aja’s clever visuals and Radcliffe’s great performance save it from total disaster.