‘Horns’: Daniel Radcliffe growing a pair should be more fun

SHARE ‘Horns’: Daniel Radcliffe growing a pair should be more fun

By Bruce Ingram/For Sun-Times Media

Things are already pretty bad for Daniel Radcliffe in “Horns” before a hat rack pops out of his forehead: His character is suspected of rape-murdering the love of his life, he’s pursued everywhere by media vultures and he’s guzzling cheap whiskey like Gatorade.

So, he’s a little worried that sprouting a pair of devil horns after an act of drunken sacrilege might make things way worse — devil horns being hard to explain under the best circumstances. In fact, though, they improve the situation for him, even as they provide the only real interest in this odd, confused, darkly romantic supernatural comedy revenge thriller.

That’s a lot of adjectives to keep track of, so maybe it’s understandable that director Alexandre Aja would lose sight of a couple along the way, especially since he’s best known for straight-ahead hardcore horror outings like “The Hills Have Eyes” and “High Tension.” “Horns” begins with Ig Perrish (Radcliffe, continuing to shove Harry Potter into the past), a hipster DJ who’s always felt out of place in his small town, waking up to a hangover and the sound of his fellow citizens protesting outside his apartment. They’re all convinced Ig has gotten away with killing his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), though there’s no evidence to prove it. Even Ig’s outwardly supportive family believes he did it. The only one who believes he’s innocent is his lifelong best friend Lee (Max Minghella), who doubles as his defense attorney and apparently can’t help looking completely untrustworthy.

The first half hour of “Horns” (based, by the way, on a novel by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill) mostly consists of Ig stumbling around half drunk being hated by everyone. Then, one morning, after committing an intoxicated outrage at an altar left behind at Merrin’s murder site, he wakes up with two small horns poking out of his noggin — and things start to get strange.

Instead of finding him alarming, people begin to take Ig into their confidence. The mother of the shrieking brat at the doctor’s office tells him she’d love to kick the little girl across the room. Then the doctor tells him about his hidden lust for his young daughter’s best friend, before snorting Ig’s pain meds and having sex with his nurse. In fact, everyone starts telling Ig their darkest, most depraved secrets, a development he uses to track down Merrin’s true killer.

The best thing about “Horns” is Ig’s initial dismay as people begin to share their inner beastliness with him, and the way he gradually begins to have fun with the idea — happily encouraging them to beat each other up, set fire to their businesses and so forth. Next thing you know, he’s a full-fledged demon with an army of serpents and a trident but, unfortunately, screenwriter Keith Bunin’s wishy-washy adaptation stops short of having Radcliffe commit to pure devilishness. One minute he’s exacting satanic vengeance and the next he’s telling us how much he wishes he hadn’t had to do it, all the while nursing a broken heart while trying to solve the mystery of Merrin’s murder and reliving their childhood romance via numerous flashbacks.

“Horns” is too long and too convoluted, and it doesn’t take nearly as many risks as it might have, but in its off-kilter way it has something to say about humankind and the nature of evil. Namely, that we don’t need much temptation from the devil to be at our very worst. And that sometimes even he can be shocked by the messed-up stuff we say and do.

[s3r star=2.5/4]

Dimension Films presents a film directed by Alexandre Aja and written by Keith Bunin. Running time: 120 minutes. Rated R (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault and drug use). Opens Friday at AMC River East.

The Latest
Updates on the top uncommitted seniors and several recruiting steals
Incoming freshman Cameron Prokop earns FOTW for a 6-pound largemouth bass caught during a high school tournament.
As an occasional treat, your favorite frozen indulgence can definitely be part of a healthy diet.
Fallen R&B star’s trial in federal court in his hometown to mirror his 2008 state child pornography trial, with some key differences: this time, his alleged victims are set testify against him.
Coming on the heels of his sentencing in New York, the trial marks a new low for Kelly, whose popularity had remained undiminished even after he was indicted in 2002. That shifted sharply after the 2019 airing of the docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.”