For this week’s Screen Savers, I had a plan. I’d watch a horrible film I had never watched, like Highlander II, but half an hour in I realised that my colleague wrote about it already. In the end, that was good because it meant I didn’t need to continue watching that thing. So I decided to revisit a film I liked that others seemed to dislike. It received very mixed reviews, which was understandable because it’s an odd film.
Alexandre Aja‘s adaptation of Horns was one of my most anticipated movies the year it came out. I loved Joe Hill‘s book and I was wondering how it’d look on screen. I liked it enough to watch it twice at the cinema, but hadn’t revisited it ever since. This was a perfect excuse!
What’s the deal with Horns?
Horns follows Ig Perrish. He’s the prime suspect of his girlfriend Merrin’s rape and murder. He claims he’s innocent but witnesses saw him arguing with her before she died, so he’s hounded by journalists and people who want him jailed.
One day he wakes up with a pair of horns coming out of his head. Those horns make people confess their darkest secrets and desires (while also giving him the ability of seeing people’s memories when he touches them) so he decides to use the horns to find out who really killed Merrin and take his revenge.
The film wasn’t really popular when it came out in cinemas, and I believe this is because of a number of factors. One of them is Daniel Radcliffe. It was one of his first roles after Harry Potter and some people might not have been ready to watch him play such a dark character. In fact, a friend of mine covered her eyes during a sex scene and said, “This feels wrong.” It could’ve been much worse, though! Shia LaBeouf had been tipped for the role and, happily enough, he didn’t take it.
But the main issue is that, tonally, it is a strange film. It has plenty of black comedy elements to it, but when it has to get serious it gets very serious, in quite a harrowing way. There are jarring tone changes between scenes, like the one where Ig makes the journalists following him fight each other, to one where Ig confronts his brother about the secrets he’s been keeping from him, while forcing him to take a bunch of drugs. Horns drags you through black comedy, only to spring something grim on you, leaving you stunned.
These huge changes in tone come from the changes that were made from the book. Hill goes back and forth in the novel, often presenting the same event from another character’s perspective. And that wouldn’t work so well in this film. But there’s also the fact that, in the book, Ig finds out who killed Merrin quite early, but doing that in a film would be just stupid. What works in a book doesn’t necessarily work in a movie.
So, as usual, when you start changing things, even more changes come. Subplots are added, like the one with the waitress played by Heather Graham. I enjoyed that addition because it’s like a twisted reflection of her role of Annie Blackburn on Twin Peaks. And while Ig and Merrin as characters have been left mostly unchanged, others like Lee and Eric have changed a lot.
But the biggest change was the treehouse. I wanted to see the Treehouse of the Mind in the film, but it was just a plain treehouse, which completely changed the way in which Ig got his horns. But, like I said, it’s the snowball effect. If you change something, then you have to change other things so that those changes make sense. This time it led to an incongruous tone, but I like the movie regardless of it.
Should you give it a chance?
I’d say so. I might be biased because of how much I enjoyed Hill‘s book, but I thought Horns was a nice adaptation, even if there are some changes I might not have liked that much.
The cast is great. I had my doubts at first about Radcliffe playing Ig, but he pulled it off. I also fell in love with Juno Temple and to this day if I see Max Minghella in something I react with utter contempt. And there are also cool things hidden in the scenes, like the license plates on the cars referencing bible verses, how Daniel Radcliffe seems to be wearing Gryffindor colours all the time (happy accident) and other things like that.
Horns is definitely not a film for everyone and it can be a bit too graphic at times, but it’s not as haunting as Haute Tension or The Hills Have Eyes, so if you’re looking for something milder, this is your movie.
Have you watched Horns? Let me know in the comments!
Angry Spaniard, adoptive Irishman. Writer, reader, tea drinker and video game player/designer.