Horns Review. Robbie and Randall Hash Out The Horns of Mr Radcliffe
Where to begin with Horns? The new movie has quite the pedigree: It’s directed by Alexandre Aja (of The Hills Have Eyes remake fame), based on a novel by Joe Hill (the famed author and son of horror titan Stephen King), and stars Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter dude) in a performance removed from his acting legacy.
The set up: It’s is a thriller/horror/comedy/romance/mystery that follows the story of Ig Perrish (Radcliffe), who’s suspected of the murder of his girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple). Ig awakens from a long night of drinking to the reality that she’s really gone. He’s tormented by the media, the police, and everyone else because he’s gotten off thus far for the crime they believe he’s committed. Soon, he believes it himself, a monster just like they say. Then come the horns. They grow from his forehead not only as an unsightly affliction, but also with the ability to make people tell the terrible truth, all the bad things they want to say and do. The devil made them do it. Realizing their power, Ig’s led on a dark and comedic journey to find the truth about what happened the night Merrin was killed.
So how is the film? There’s a strong, divisive argument both for and against it. Where it succeeds in so many ways, it also fails miserably in so many others. See it with a friend, but don’t fight with your friend when you discuss it! Fair warning, lots of this discussion veers into spoiler territory.
Robbie: Firstly, the movie is filled with goofy puns. One of the opening lines of the film asks, “Are you horny?” Another comes later, post-horns scene, that goes: “I’ll be damned” whereupon Radcliffe’s character answers, “You and me both!” These are out of context here, but when they’re uttered they made me laugh. I found them oddly charming, kind of hearkening back to a more innocent time in filmmaking. Following Joe Hill on Twitter also gave me a little better understanding of some of the humor in the film – he’s a pretty goofy dude in every good sense of that word. Though this maybe didn’t come through as well in the film for everyone, it’s one of the things I grabbed onto.
Randall: Was the book a comedy? I should have known I was in for something less than serious when I heard Alexandre Aja was directing. I know you and I are split in our opinions of him, since I actually enjoyed High Tension and came close to loving his remake of The Hills Have Eyes. And of course I liked Piranha 3D for what it was, a deliberately crappy and silly movie. That enjoyment didn’t carry over to Horns. From the very first pun (“Are you horny?”), I was lost and that charm never reached me. A few moments, the humor worked fantastically, like when he visits the doctor’s office, but most of the time, it didn’t land for me.
Robbie: It was like the studio was feeling naughty and wanted to make an edgy film and I appreciated that. It was slick, over-produced and curated in every way. This was not some cheap toss off. The script was plotted nicely, and though that lent to the unnecessary sparkle of the production, it made it easy to watch.
Randall: I didn’t find it edgy at all.
Robbie: I didn’t find it edgy, either, just “studio edgy.” They’re mostly old boring conservatives swinging their wallets around, playing it safe. It’s like when someone’s mom has one too many glasses of wine. “Oh I’m being so bad tonight! I’m going to watch Daniel Radcliffe cuss and fuck!”
Robbie: Agreed. But Alexandre Aja didn’t really think the ending of High Tension through, so there’s that. I did think Radcliffe was great, despite the ham on screen.
Randall: Less said about that ending to High Tension, the better. Maybe I’ve just never warmed to Radcliffe. The only time I ever really enjoyed him was in that episode of Extras, but even then I thought I wasn’t doing a good job playing a hammy version of himself. Here, his overacting didn’t work for me. All he could do was bulge his eyes and shout.
Robbie: I can see that. Juno Temple was totally wasted here. She’s actually a skilled and fearless actress. She’s diluted to “the dead girl” for the most part. Would’ve loved to see her as the trashy bartender, Glenna, instead. That would’ve been something!
Randall: She would have owned the trashy bartender part, but that’s also a role she probably thought she’s played a few times before.
How do you feel about the narration?
Robbie: I thought it was pretty awful, actually. I’m rarely a fan of narration. Given the circumstances, I didn’t hate it, though. This movie felt very familiar. I’d been here before, this world, this place, these characters. And whether that’s good or bad, it made me kind of like it more. The movie was not actually good by the standards of good. It was entertaining in that “grand old Hollywood tradition” sort of way. All the bad puns, the goofy horror element, the crime saga BS, the love story and the betrayal, then we get the horns and the devil/angel thing. Somehow I was invested.
Randall: You’re listing all these great traditional elements, but I don’t think they worked well together in this film, nor did I find the film committed to any of them. It comes down to personal connection. I was thinking of two films the entire time – Tusk, which also a problematic film with disparate elements, but it worked for me anyhow. And then there’s Jennifer’s Body, where all the elements somehow managed to come together in a meaningful way.
Now Tusk was a struggle for me, but it had the freedom to be as outlandishly as stupid as it wanted, and this film did, too. What didn’t work for me with Tusk was the forced element of darkness. It tried to tap into some sense of psychological terror that really didn’t jibe. It just kept going and going into more absurdity. How did that old dude make Wallace a big fat walrus?! There was no magical element and therefore I didn’t believe it. Were we supposed to like Wallace? I know we weren’t really supposed to like him, but with Ig in Horns we were rooting for him because he had an issue to solve–the murder of his girlfriend, the loss of love, and we bought all the crap because there was this great magical element to it. He was the underdog gifted with the ability to garner the truth with some fantastical affliction and save the world, as it were.
Randall: I definitely don’t think we were supposed to root for Wallace in Tusk. He was painted as so unlikable. But despite Ig’s positioning as the underdog, he wasn’t likable. Let’s not forget the night before he grows horns, he drunkenly stomps on Merrin’s memorial, and then proceeds to piss on it. I get he’s supposed to be in pain, but his actions work against him. And, the supernatural elements in this film are just as preposterous as the notion of turning Wallace into a walrus in Tusk. Why exactly did Ig grow horns? Because he was being treated as a devil and starting to feel like one? Or was it the puns that caused it?
Robbie: No, he wasn’t likable. We weren’t meant to like him, though, but we were meant to relate to his journey: find the truth and set yourself free. It was all about Merrin in that respect – she needed justice. I don’t even want to delve into what the hell Tusk is supposed to be about. That comment about humans being separated from animals because we feel emotions, because we cry, then Wallace cries at the end. That was strained at best. And for the record, animals feel emotion. They just don’t cry like humans. Just because Wallace had become a monster in his normal life (the whole metaphor of the movie) doesn’t make it any better than the horns for Ig. Both dudes kind of sucked, one just happened to get a happier ending because he had a different journey.
Randall: My apologies for bringing up Tusk (in more ways than one!). You’ve got some good points, but Merrin’s death almost seemed like an afterthought to the entire movie. It was supposed to propel the movie forward, but every step of the way, she’s marginalized. Let’s veer into deep spoiler territory for a bit–with things that I believe were from the novel–as if her death wasn’t “bad” enough, she needed to be raped as well. The crassness of that scene would work great in a more exploitative film, but here it’s just gross. I believe we’ve spoken before about my feelings on rape being used simply for dramatic effect. I’m tired of it, and added literally nothing to this film. And, then of course we find out Merrin wasn’t cheating on Ig and was in fact DYING OF CANCER and wanted to spare him the pain of watching her die a slow death.
Robbie: Let’s talk about exploitative! The gay, fat cop’s grisly death. F– THAT. That actually made me angry. I thought we were way passed punishing homosexuals in cinema, and genre cinema especially. But Ig’s character makes a comment about it being natural for men to suck each other’s cock, so they just figured it was okay to devolve into old comfortable tropes of murdering the queers. The movie honestly almost lost me there. The rape then that. You’re convincing me how terrible the movie actually is.
Randall: Thank you! I couldn’t stand the old “being gay” is the punchline to the joke. Why is that still happening? That’s bad enough, but then the way the cop was killed, the second most violent death in the film.
Robbie: Want to talk about Radcliffe’s performance? I thought he did a good job playing an underdog/everyman, and for once someone that wasn’t destined for magical greatness (Potter series). I believed him when he was sad or disappointed… for the most part.
Robbie: I actually found that scene really well executed. I thought there was a lot of tension in his face, and he was holding back in a way that made me question for a moment if he DID kill her. Did it save the movie? Absolutely not.
Randall: That scene didn’t work as tension. The whole “Tell me if you fucked him so I can better hate you” bit was another instance of the screenplay just not working as a dramatic moment.
Robbie: Speaking of, can we name three points of contention with the screenplay?
Randall: Point #1, nearly all the dialogue, starting with “Are you horny” and continuing throughout. Point #2, the tediousness of the “devil made me do it scenes.” There were just too many. They were clever and fun at first, but after the fifth one, I was done with them. Point #3, the complete lack of logic. Merrin’s father hates Ig with all his heart, but when Ig shows up burned and says for the umpteenth time he didn’t do it, her father out of nowhere says “But then you know who did” and suddenly is willing to hear Ig out. Or Ig in demon-mode could take multiple gunshots and keep walking like he’s the Terminator, but a pitchfork in the gut is going to kill him. And, I know this is nitpicking so much, but having Ig be an asthmatic and a smoker was just silly.
Robbie: Again, I really enjoyed the puns, dumb and unnecessary as they were. Contention point #1 where the script failed was its need to rely on the aforementioned tired old tropes. It dumbed it down in every way. I didn’t read the book myself, maybe it was similar, but nothing about it actually felt fresh. Point #2 was the non-commitment to “the devil made me do it.” That could’ve been a perfect satire had it been the entire movie, not to mention a ton of fun. Those scenes were perhaps my favorites in the entire two-f**ing-hours. Point #3, the entire ending. F- you and the angel wings. What in the actual hell was that? (pun!) Good and evil fighting it out within the soul of an accused murderer? No. Just no. One more point: the red herring brother bit made the movie a little too long. Could’ve easily been 1.5 hrs.
Randall: Yeah, over 2 hours was too much for that thing. 100 minutes tops.
Robbie: In a way, you’ve made me go from really liking the film to actually finding it so very flat. I often have a soft spot for these cliche movies, tedious as they can be. For instance, I like Forrest Gump. I’m not ashamed of that, though I should be. It’s a terrible movie. And so is this one.
Randall: There’s room for movies like Forrest Gump and Horns, but I think the source of my annoyance is that a movie that plays things so safe and is so cookie-cutter has no place at Fantastic Fest.
Robbie: Ouch. Shit. Agree. *ducks out of sight*