It’s never easy adapting a quirky book into an interesting film. ‘Horns’ turned out to be much better than you might expect. It’s an engaging, entertaining murder-mystery with a preposterous but perfectly accomplished supernatural spin.
Take away the horns and you have a genre standard, wrongly-accused, coming of age investigation which centres on the brutal killing of a young woman. Her recently-spurned long-time boyfriend is the obvious suspect who can’t quite remember if he dunnit or not, and he must try to clear his name with the help of his childhood friends and his family. Trouble is, the most likely suspect for ‘the other guy’ is one of his childhood friends or family. It’s an interesting enough set-up all own its ownsome…
…which becomes simply delicious when you throw the horns into the mix. The hero (literally) grows a set over night which first he interprets as a sign of his own guilt. Then he understands that the horns compel the people around him to reveal their worst secrets, to act out their heart’s desires. Initially used to great comedic effect, this sassy plot device takes on a sinister tone when he talks to the people he cares about the most and discovers all kinds of hideous home truths which eventually reveal the killer’s identity.
‘Horns’ makes some bitingly witty observations about modern culture (get the waitress who invents a witness statement so she can become a reality TV star), and savagely skewers parental expectation and dedication with bitter precision. It features one of the best ‘bad trip’ hallucination scenes since Videodrome, but balances the black humour with some genuinely poignant moments. David Morse puts in a ripping performance as the wounded, grief-stricken father: one of the few righteous individuals in a story which reveals our innermost flaws.
Similarly, you can’t help but feel considerable sympathy for the easy-lay of smalltown America, the girl who so wants to be popular that she’ll shag anyone. Her love goes unrequited and ignored; her affections trivialised and her emotions tormented.
It’s also entertaining to try to identify the references to movies which have trod similar ground before: I spotted ones to Ridley Scott and Tim Curry but there were many other moments which felt in-jokily familiar. The gang-of-kids-growing up motif also felt very reminiscent of Stephen King; their loss of innocence at a scarily early age, the different loyalties, rivalries and jealousies which brood and breed and eventually bloom into bloody conflict in adulthood.
Daniel Radcliffe was suitably scruffy and grungy as the suspected killer. The final confrontation with the killer, with snakes, a pitchfork, a flaming wings and a simply huge set of horns was kinda daft but enormously enjoyable. For a film which raised few expectations, ‘Horns’ delivered a surprisingly good experience.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Horns is available to rent or buy on DVD and Blu-ray