By Roger Moore
In “Horns,” Daniel Radcliffe grows a pair.
He plays a young man whose girlfriend was brutally murdered and who has a magically realistic way of becoming what his suburban Seattle neighbors think of him.
“When they looked at me, they saw the devil,” Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) narrates. “Now, I had to look the part.”
But Ig is sure he could never have killed his sweetheart since childhood, Merrin. And new horns or no new horns, he starts asking around, investigating the case that the cops never quite made against him, hunting for “the real killer.”
And once he’s got the reddish, Satanic outcroppings on his head, Ig has help in this hunt. People tend to blurt out deep, dark thoughts — truths, suspicions, yearnings. The doctor he goes to (Alex Zahara) to get the horns removed is distracted — by his nurse and other temptations.
Ig’s mother (Kathleen Quinlan) confesses that she wishes her son, whom she has professed to love “no matter what,” would just leave. His father (James Remar) makes a heartbreaking confession about what he thinks happened on that rainy night, when Ig got drunk and blacked out only to wake up with a dead girlfriend.
Director Alexandre Aja (“High Tension,” the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes”) makes this film, based on a Joe Hill novel, a sight-and-song gag-riddled religious allegory for much of its length. Ig drives an ancient AMC Gremlin, lumber trucks rumble through a “Twin Peaks” world of closeted cops and judgmental rednecks, all subject to whatever suggestion Ig utters at them to buy time for his investigation.
We see the lifelong romance with Merrin (Juno Temple plays her as an adult, Sabrina Carpenter as a tween). Flashbacks show Ig’s circle of friends then and now. Actions in childhood reverberate into adulthood as Lee, a true-blue friend as a kid, is the only lawyer (Max Minghella) Ig trusts as an adult.
But as on-the-nose as “Horns” sometimes is — Heather Graham plays yet another tarty-trashy waitress — none of this set dressing is much of a distraction from a fairly straightforward love story/murder mystery. When you set aside time for sex scenes, a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” treated as a hymn in church and drag out the post-climax ending, you’re overstaying your welcome.
But Radcliffe, to his credit, never does. His American accent is spot-on, his torment at Ig’s loss, fear that he might be guilty and fury that he might be framed are all nicely underplayed.
And it’s refreshing to see Aja get back to something more demanding than the generic horror Hollywood sentenced him to after inviting him here after the superb French horror thriller, “High Tension.”
I just wish there’d been more to this allegory, something more than Radcliffe’s Ig explaining his protrusions to one and all with “They’re horns. It’s a crazy story.”
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