Horns is really weird. That much should be obvious from even a cursory glance over the plot of this Alexandre Aja-directed genre-bender – soon after the rape and murder of his loving girlfriend (Juno Temple, underused but terrific), Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) awakens with horns protruding from his head, odd additions that compel those around him to unload their darkest secrets and desires. Baffled but seizing the opportunity, Ig sets out to clear his name and locate the real killer. It’s a strange and certainly original set-up, with sparks of magical realism, gross-out horror, romance, revenge drama and black comedy.
What’s also really weird about Horns, though, is that Aja, the gorehound director behind High Tension and Piranha 3D, never seems quite sure which of those sparks he wants to fan into a bigger flame. As the film starts out, Ig witnesses all manner of absurd fallout from his sprouting horns, like a mom in a waiting room cheerfully telling him that she wants to abandon her child, or his doctor giving into his impulses to screw the nurse instead of operate on Ig while he’s under anesthetic.
In those early scenes, Horns has a playful swagger, boosted by Radcliffe’s devilishly good performance, and Ig’s transformation feels almost reminiscent of an X-Men origin story. But then, as it barrels along, Horns gets significantly darker and less humorous. As Ig begins to question whether the horns mean he’s turning into some sort of literal devil, and his search for his girlfriend’s killer takes some distressing turns, the movie morphs into a full-blooded horror pic, complete with guts spilling out everywhere and snakes crawling in and out of characters’ various orifices.
The transition is more than a little rocky, and Keith Bunin’s often-stilted screenplay doesn’t help matters. There’s a refreshing unpredictability to Horns in places, a sense that Aja is toying with something that viewers haven’t seen before, but the film often falters, taking some scenes too far and others not nearly far enough. Blood and guts explode across the screen in a rushed final act, though some might not even categorize everything that comes before as horror. Similarly, Ig’s characterization is all over the place, with him playing anguished boyfriend one minute and ruthless vigilante the next. None of it lines up particularly congruently.
As a result, Horns feels rather jumbled, and viewers are probably right to wonder whether Aja even knew what kind of film he wanted to make in the first place. If he had committed to making a true horror pic, the movie could have been as pulpy, nasty and macabre as horror lovers surely wish it had been. Or if Aja had decided to play up the black comedy elements, there could have been a lot more wicked laughs that this final cut yielded. The film even might have worked better as a dark romance, had more time been spent with Ig and his girlfriend outside of the flashbacks to their relationship.
It’s easy to wish, though. The Horns we got is, in the end, a mixed bag, made up of some enjoyably revolting moments, some darkly droll ones and not enough of either to truly satisfy. Radcliffe, relishing every second of this against-type role, pulls it back from the brink of tonally dissonant disaster, but the only real sin where Horns is concerned that it’s not better.
Whatever the quality of the film, there’s no denying the terrific job Anchor Bay and RADiUS did in bringing Horns to Blu-Ray. The 1080p transfer is great with shadow and texture, bringing the film’s slightly off-kilter universe to life, and Aja’s slightly muted color palette is faithfully replicated here. Detail is terrific throughout, from the grooves on Ig’s horns to the foliage in an Edenic forest that plays a key role.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track also serves its purpose, with special attention paid to crispness of dialogue and dreamy music entering in and out of scenes. Particularly in the film’s more scream-filled final third, the track kicks into overdrive, but there are never any issues with sound clarity, and sound effects like fire consuming a car or pouring rain sound realistic and are well-implemented. No issues here.
The special features begin and end with:
- “The Making of Horns” (18:48)
The lone special feature is a solid behind-the-scenes doc that features interviews with Aja, Radcliffe, book author Joe Hill, Temple, Mighella and others. It’s an insightful bonus for fans of the film that really drives home how near and dear the story of Horns was to everyone involved with the production. Watching them enthusiastically detail their personal reactions to the story and what they feel are the themes of the movie helped me get more out of the film, simply put. Highly recommended for any viewer.
Horns is by no means a complete failure, but it also never lives up to its full potential. Intriguing but never truly gripping, diverting but never wildly entertaining, occasionally gross but never really scary, it feels like a missed opportunity in a lot of ways, despite some enjoyable scenes. Radcliffe is the real reason to see this, bringing a wicked fire to Ig that we haven’t seen from the actor before, and he’s backed up ably by supporting players like Temple, Minghella and James Remar. When Horns works, it can be a lot of fun. It just doesn’t work as often as it should, and the result is a disappointingly messy and middling affair. That notwithstanding, with the terrific video-audio transfer and solid bonus feature, if you’re going to invest in Horns, Blu-Ray is the way to go.
Horns has its moments, and Radcliffe is devilishly good in the main role, but it's hard to shake the feeling that, given the intriguing premise, it should be so much better than it actually is.