Part fantasy, part psychodrama, part horror, and part art film, Horns has a little bit of everything -- at least, everything you need to sustain a movie about rape, murder, true love, and a guy who sprouts horns out of his head. The film’s only problem is that the way it jumps from one genre to the next, while often fun and engaging in its ability to continually surprise you, sometimes feels a little jumbled, and occasionally undercuts its own momentum.
The focus of the story and the bearer of the titular horns is Iggy (Daniel Radcliffe), a small-town radio DJ who is currently the target of his entire community’s hatred and vitriol. Iggy’s girlfriend, the beautiful and sweet Merrin (Juno Temple), was brutally raped and murdered, and everyone thinks he did it. However, we the audience know that he’s innocent, that Merrin was his one true soul mate, his source of joy, and the spiritual center of his universe. They were inseparable since they were 13, and her death alone would be a weighty enough trauma to crush Iggy; but her loss, coupled with the abuse he’s suddenly receiving from everyone, seems like more than any mortal man could survive.
Then, one fine morning, Iggy discovers that his status as the scapegoat for the whole town’s fear and hatred has, through some feat of magical realism and hallucinatory horror, manifested itself physically: He’s growing two little nubs out of his skull like a mountain goat or a longhorn steer -- or the Devil. Even worse, nobody seems to notice them, or at least nobody seems to care because they’re too busy thinking about themselves. The horns have a strange effect on others: People in Iggy’s presence become completely unable to keep secrets, especially their dark ones. Everyone he encounters is reduced to a horrifyingly honest state of perpetual, selfish, childlike id, unable and unwilling to put on a face of caring and compassion. A woman in his doctor’s office informs him impishly that she’d like to leave her family and shack up with a golf pro. The reporters who hound him explain, quite matter-of-factly, that they’d like to exploit his story to further their careers. His own mother responds to his desperation by unabashedly revealing that she wishes he would just leave town.
This is a great, if obvious, metaphor for what “the Devil” really is in society. Whether we point to a character with a red, pointy tail and a pitchfork, or socialize by the watercooler (or on Twitter) to verbally indict the latest murder suspect at the center of some MSNBC media circus, we’re always looking for someone to project all of our fear and hatred onto. In this sense, the literalization of this abstract concept in Horns is very (ahem) on point. We accept the otherworldly happenings in the story because we’re reading them as allegory.
The only potential problem is that, at various points (especially toward the end), events become much more entrenched in a paradigm of linear, fantasy-world logic. The story feels a lot less compelling when the narrative gets tied up in cause-and-effect plot devices like magical talismans. And, just as disappointingly, there comes a time in the film when the characters’ motivations suddenly cannot be explained without heavy-handed, teen-melodrama-style revelations that paint over much of their motivations and desires with awfully broad strokes. Even still, Horns is very ambitious and beautifully strange, and if the premise intrigues you, it’s definitely worth watching.
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- Released: 2014
- Rating: R
- Review: Part fantasy, part psychodrama, part horror, and part art film, Horns has a little bit of everything -- at least, everything you need to sustain a movie about rape, murder, true love, and a guy who sprouts horns out of his head. The film’s only problem is… (more)