While the author of Horns Joe Hill may sound like a Batman villain he is in fact the son of horror maestro Stephen King. And like his dark minded dad Hill seems to have a wondrous ability to tap into a macabre, twisted sense of storytelling, but as any King fan will attest not all his books make for good films. So is Horns a Shining example of horror or a nightmare of Dreamcatcher proportion?
Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) and Merrin (Juno Temple) are childhood sweethearts very much in love. But one alcohol fuelled night Ig passes out and the following morning Merrin turns up brutally murdered. With the whole town assuming Ig is the killer he is forced to hide behind closed doors while his best friend and lawyer Lee (Max Minghella) tries to get Ig off the murder charges. But waking one morning Ig has unleashed the devil inside and has sprouted horns. Despite his unsightly demonic look Ig’s new powers allow him to force people to confess their sins and so sets out to find and bring his own brand of justice to Merrin’s killer.
Horns’ biggest issue is that like so many of King film adaptations the filmmakers seem to have missed the point of the source material. Hill’s novel is a fun twisty turny dark romance, the emphasis always being on Ig’s love for Merrin and the inner turmoil he goes through believing he could have killed her. The film discards almost of all this, only briefly touching upon it for a bit of emotional manipulation, and instead makes the concept rather than the story the focus point.
Director Alexandre Aja, who is always at his best when dealing with horror rather than black comedy, fails to pinpoint the tone of the movie. At times it wants to be a chilling mystery but then delves into jarring slapstick comedy as Ig flexes his new abilities. The look is solid, capturing the lush greens of Ig and Merrin’s forest tree house and the drab look of the small town they inhabit. But it ambles along, missing the key plot points in favour of red herrings and misguided attempts at humour.
But the most frustrating thing about Horns is what could have been. As in the book the film dips in and out of Ig and Merrin’s childhood days. In these scenes the film shows potential, a kind of Stand By Me with a hint of destiny nestled beneath the surface of the hijinks. But, presumably because someone was worried about having star name Daniel Radcliffe off screen for too long, these moments are fleeting and throwaway rather than lending the key context of the film’s narrative.
Joe Hill’s book is a dark delight and one that deserves much better than this filmic adaptation. Dull and missing the point and heart of the source novel Horns is less devilishly good and more bored goat.