★★ / ★★★★
Due to grief, anger, and alcohol, Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) manages to destroy the memorial of his recently deceased girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple). The next morning, he wakes up with a throbbing pain on his forehead—two horns have begun to grow and there does not appear to be a way of removing them. But the horns come with an ability. They allow people nearby to disclose their most inner thoughts and secrets which is useful considering Ig wishes to find out who killed Merrin.
Based on the novel by Joe Hill and screenplay by Keith Bunin, “Horns” leads with an interesting concept but it fails to truly deliver when it comes to its core mystery. I found the identity of the killer to be far too easy to predict. Within the first twenty minutes I had a guess about who it might be and I was right. Thus, the film becomes a waiting game and I was amused by the main character running around and asking the wrong questions.
Part of the problem is that the supporting characters fail to move beyond caricatures. Because they do not come across as real people reacting to real events, categorizing them and making conjectures about their motivations is not at all a challenge. There is only one supporting character that is somewhat able to move outside the box. Dale, Merrin’s father, is nicely played by David Morse and his dramatic scenes more or less work because of sheer performance. I wished we had gotten a chance to know more about Dale and less about Ig’s childhood friends (Joe Anderson, Max Minghella, Kelli Garner, Michael Adamthwaite) even though they are absolutely necessary to the plot.
The picture tends to go overboard with its special and visual effects. Computer graphic snakes look fake and laughable at times while Ig’s transformation is too literal. Fantasy elements that work effectively are less hyperbolic and non-visual. For instance, we are provided a couple of scenes involving strangers who cannot help but reveal their hidden shames and wishes. These are the highlight of the film because they are comedic but horrible and so we hope to hear more.
It has a running time of two hours for no good reason. The revelations are anticlimactic and require a suspension of disbelief which is difficult if we have not grown to love or care about the characters getting hurt or ending up dead. Thus, there is a flatness during the third act. Just when one thinks the movie is over, it keeps going and becomes more unbelievable.
“Horns,” directed by Alexandre Aja, has got its visuals pat but there is very little characterization and feeling. Its premise captures the attention and perhaps the way to maintain it is for the material to be taken to extremes—make it scary or suspenseful from time to time then suddenly turning certain situations really funny but in a twisted or sick way. Ig’s so-called detective work is dull.