Releases October 31. Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple. Director: Alexandre Aja. Advance screening provided by Fantastic Fest.
The premise of this flick is a strange one, but strange is probably suitable for a movie based on a story by Joe Hill -- who you might know as the writer of horror comic series Locke & Key (or perhaps as the son of Stephen King). Hill has a talent for twisted horror stories, and it's certainly on display here, brought to cinematic life by director Alexandre Aja.
Horns follows Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), a young man whose girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) has just been murdered. Everyone around him thinks he did it, and from there the story ventures into the fantastic. Ig wakes up to find himself sprouting horns, turning himself into the devil the entire town seems to think he is. Alongside this new-found physical feature, Ig discovers he has a surprising supernatural ability: his presence seems to make everyone want to talk about their darkest secrets.
This isn't as fun as it sounds, especially when Ig is already a wreck after Merrin's death. His friends and family blame him for Merrin's death and it soon becomes clear that he can't stay around any of them -- even if they wanted him to, which they don't. So instead he decides to embrace his newly-found dark side and use his powers to find Merrin's killer. This typically means talking to people and, once they've gotten past the annoying business of them telling him their secrets, suggesting what they should do for him -- which they often do.
The best example of this is demonstrated when he first really embraces this ability by suggesting that reporters vying for an interview with him fight it out... and whoever wins will get an exclusive. Both reporters and camera crews immediately take to his suggestion, and he walks away from the chaos with Personal Jesus playing in the background. Yep, this is exactly what you're getting into with this movie... and for the most part, it's a lot of fun.
But from darkly comic moments like these, the film only grows darker. As Ig becomes more adept at using his powers, he grows cold and cruel, doing some truly awful things to family, friends, and even bystanders as he roots out Merrin's killer. Radcliffe is fantastic here, making Ig's descent believable... and even sympathetic. By the end, Ig embraces his demonic nature, carrying a pitchfork with a snake draped over his shoulders... and the movie fully embraces the horror genre with some gruesome scenes.
My only complaint about the story, really, is Merrin. Her tale plays out in flashbacks, where she's presented as the absolutely perfect girlfriend -- and the only time she does anything less than perfect, she winds up dying for it. It's a one-note portrayal that seems meant to cast her as the angel to Ig's demon, but it comes off as a tired trope. Merrin's one-sided characterization just seems flimsy when compared to Ig's, which has significant depth with Radcliffe's nuanced portrayal. When the rest of the story is so beautifully strange, it's a shame that Horns relies on the tired "woman dies to motivate a man" storyline to kick off the action.
Horns is due out at the end of the month -- just in time for Halloween -- but you can catch it on demand right now if you're willing to forgo the movie theater experience.
Bottom Line: Overall, this is a tremendously fun flick, and fans of the genre are sure to enjoy it. Just don't turn up at the theater expecting Harry Potter... despite the fact that Daniel Radcliffe plays a character with supernatural powers and an affinity for snakes.
Recommendation: This fantastically imaginative horror/thriller is certainly worth your time if you're a fan of the genre. If you're not a horror fan, however, you'll find it goes to some dark and fairly gruesome places that you might not appreciate.