“Love hurts like hell.” That’s one tagline of Alexandre Aja’s latest flick HORNS. If it wasn’t so true I might have laughed off a lot of this adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel- which I have not read. In fact, much of HORNS feels like a huge departure from Aja’s sensibilities- though he did toy with some cheesy comedy in PIRANHA 3D. However, this Daniel Radcliffe headliner flirts with a little bit of everything from black comedy all the way to tragic romance. The unfortunate thing being that Aja’s film does not excel at any of the genres it touches.
The film begins with Ig (Radcliffe) and Merrin (Juno Temple) a couple obviously in love. Almost instantly things are literally flipped upside down as we find Ig in the throes of depression with an empty bottle of liquor next to him. As he heads outside he’s greeted by press asking him what it’s like to get away with murder and protestors saying he should burn in Hell. As it turns out Merrin has been murdered and everyone with the exception of Ig’s brother Terry (Joe Anderson) and best friend/lawyer Lee (Max Minghella) thinks he did it. With everyone painting him as a devil Ig awakes from a drunken fling with horns growing out of his head. The image is enough to spook just about any man except that no one seems to be thrown off by the phenomenon. To make things weirder people keep confessing their darkest desires to him as if part of regular conversation. Ig starts to use the power to his advantage in efforts to dig up the truth behind what happened to Merrin.
Now, just because HORNS dips its toes into many different genres and can’t decide on a tone doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s true that not a one of the different genres is exceptional by normal standards, but they aren’t all that bad either. The dark comedy is good for a chuckle here and there and even some of the heavier moments of the tragic romance are well done. However, in the finale the mixture of violence, drama and comedy all hit head on and it turned me from mostly liking HORNS to being a little conflicted about it.
There’s a tremendous amount of fun to be had when people first start coming to Ig and telling him their deepest darkest secrets. Some of them are funny, some provocative, some strange and some just disturbing. Then the film gets to a point that the secrets are less fun and more upsetting. Who wouldn’t be a little upset to hear their mother say she wishes she wasn’t your mother- or perhaps even more disheartening words from your father. As the movie progresses much of what is happening feels darker, yet the comedy bits don’t stop and as a result feel somewhat morbid. It’s at that point the flick feels less fun than it should.
Then in the finale once everyone’s cards are on the table and we know the secret to the whodunit HORNS tries to get tender. There’s an incredibly human moment right before things fly off the rails. The moment is emotional payoff you’d want from a romance on the outs that hits you right in the feels. Where does the film go from there? Well obviously to a ridiculous showdown that involves at least one moment of needless over-the-top violence. One then is left to wonder if that Aja just couldn’t help but sabotage his moment of achieving actual emotion in a movie by turning it into a bloodbath.
The distracting tonal shifts aside Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple are both great. Joe Anderson and Max Minghella put in some pretty good supporting roles though Minghella has a really bizarre moment at the end that rang false to me. All of the leads and remaining costars have fun with the premise, but Aja doesn’t seem committed to making one type of movie.
Had HORNS picked a genre and stuck with it the whole way I feel like it could have done some great things. Trying to mix dark comedy and violence with more heartfelt emotions tends not to sit well. As is HORNS is at times funny and at time briefly emotionally engaging, but in the end it betrays itself. HORNS is always entertaining and wickedly fun at times, but left me guarded from outright loving it with the constantly shifting tone. I suppose I can just take solace in that at least no one took the opening and called this HORNY instead.
Note: The tagline referred to in the review is featured on a different poster than the one used for this review.