This film is strangely similar to The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, which I wrote about last week. Both movies are love stories combined with thrillers, and have a supernatural aspect. But whereas in Charlie Countryman the supernatural was a dispensable add-on, here in Horns it is absolutely central.
Horns (directed by Alexandre Aja and scripted by Keith Bunin) also resembles another recent favourite of mine, Gone Girl, in that it features a likable protagonist (with the crazy name of Ig Perrish, played by Daniel Radcliffe) who is accused of murdering his girlfriend — and we are made to guess initially whether he did it or not.
But Horns develops in a somewhat different way. To put it mildly. I shall now try to summarise the story. (Please don't send people after me with a strait-jacket. This actually is the plot of the movie.) As our hero wanders around, trying to piece together the fate of his girlfriend, and work out whether he killed her or not, he start to grow horns on his forehead. That's right, devil horns.
And people react strangely to these horns — and not in the way you think. They begin to confess their deepest desires to our hero, and ask his permission to indulge them. If that sounds weird, well it is.
Horns, as well as being a murder mystery, love story, and tale of the supernatural, is also a comedy. And therein in lies the problem. These elements aren't successfully blended into a satisfying whole. Rather they're an unholy (no pun intended) mess. What is worse, the magical effects of Ig's horns keeps varying to suit the short term purposes of the script.
Sometimes he has the power to get people to tell the truth, sometimes he brings out their hidden desires (not quite the same thing), sometimes he simply seems to exert the ability to control their behaviour.
Oh yes, and sometimes a bunch of supernatural snakes start slithering around. And Ig has the ability to unleash them on people he doesn't like. Except when he really needs to, in the big showdown at the end. Then he can't.
This is a fatal shortcoming. If you are going to tell a fantasy story you must be absolutely clear about the fantasy element and how it operates. You have to lay down ground rules (vampires can't be exposed to sunlight, werewolves are vulnerable to silver bullets...) and resolutely stick to them. Otherwise your whole narrative unravels. Which is what happens in Horns.
What actually works best in the movie is the murder mystery aspect. The supernatural side of the story is a blithering mess. I sat there wondering how the hell (no pun intended) such an oddball movie could ever have got made. I mean, I couldn't imagine someone picking this up as an original script and saying , "Yes, we must green light this movie!" I decided it must be based on some source material...
And sure enough, when the credits rolled at the end, it turned out to be an adaptation of a novel by Joe Hill. Now, Joe Hill is a very interesting writer. He's actually the son of Stephen King, but has very honourably refused to cash in on the name of his mega-famous dad and has carved out a career on his own terms, and his own merits.
Horns the movie was a dog's breakfast, but I suspect that Horns the novel might well work. All the disparate elements which failed to gel as a film could be much more harmoniously blended in prose. I shall check out Hill's book. In fact, I'm looking forward to it.
(Image credits: all the posters are from Ace Show Biz).