Harry does Hill
Can you keep a secret? No. That’s the point
The film rambles along with only varying degrees of success
Release Date: 29 October 15 | 123 minutes Director: Alexandre Aja Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Heather Graham
progression beyond the role of Harry Potter has been both admirable and frustrating. He’s shown no fear when it comes to pounding the boards of Broadway or the West End, performing as a hoofer in a musical ( How To Succeed In Business) or going starkers nightly for drama’s sake ( Equus). And on the film side of his CV, he’s also made an effort to take on a range of unexpected genres, including horror. It’s just unfortunate that his selections in that particular genre have been more style than substance.
Radcliffe’s latest, The Hills Have Eyes director Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel, is a case in point. The source material is an almost Buffy- esque tonal mash- up which throttles non- linearly from satire to horror, with a bit of everything in- between. Aja attempts to do the same, but after dismantling the structure of the book and only skimming the surface of its darker themes, his cinematic version inelegantly rambles along with only varying degrees of success.
Ostensibly, the core of the story is a murder mystery revolving around the death of Merrin Williams ( played ethereally well by Juno Temple), beloved girlfriend of Ig Perrish ( Radcliffe). Bonded since their pre- teens, the couple hit a next- lifestage impasse and have a dramatic, public falling out. Hours later, Williams is found dead in the woods, her head bashed in by a rock.
Perrish is immediately tried in the court of public opinion as the murderer because of his illconsidered comment to the cops of “It’s all my fault”, an expression of regret at leaving Merrin post- fight that’s taken as a sign of criminal guilt. The film opens with the very promising visual of Ig blearily waking up post- drinking binge, spinning Bowie’s “Heroes” while a pack of rabid reporters and upstanding citizens await him curbside, ready to pounce with accusations. It’s a lovely, subtle moment of the sort which, alas, is rarely repeated as the film unfolds.
The hook of the piece gets introduced after the bewildered Ig has a one- night- stand with the town floozy and wakes to find he’s growing a pair of horns from his cranium. Through some bizarre interactions, Ig discovers that everyone can see the horns - and they aren’t disturbed by them, as he is. In fact, once he gazes upon them, everyone from complete strangers to his own family members feel compelled to unload their deepest, darkest truths and compulsions to him.
And here’s where Aja makes a dire mistake, playing these confessions of racism, lust or malice far too broadly. These over- the- top declarations might work if the whole film was a satire, but it’s not. At its centre is an incredibly sentimental romance that reveals itself, through several gauzy flashbacks, to be the narrative engine of the entire movie. Trying to mix that sincerity with a series of very stagey character confessionals that repeatedly reduce Radcliffe to looking appropriately appalled while his co- stars shamelessly mug just doesn’t work.
The film also isn’t helped by the fact that Aja and screenwriter Keith Bunin transform the murder – a fascinatingly explored topic in the source material – into an appallingly thin construct, the solution to which can be guessed in the first act. They don’t even attempt to compensate for that by adding credible character development. We get some context via overly- long flashbacks which highlight seminal childhood moments for Ig, Merrin, their buddy Lee and Ig ’s brother Terry, but these don’t provide the kind of nuanced connective tissue to the characters’ adult selves that would elevate the investigation to anything resembling smart or layered. What’s left are a few suspects, all of whom are conveniently revealed to be besotted with Merrin ( was there only one woman in this town?), until the actual killer practically twirls his moustache while saying, “I did it!”. Sadly, your average throwaway
episode of Law & Order handles a crime of passion far better than this film’s half- hearted execution.
But what’s really wasted is the smart, metaphorical horror that could have been woven into Horns on the back of Ig ’s devolving into a demon. Aja placates his base by staging some random horror gags in the last half of the film, but they play out like morality- lite vignettes, replete with corny verbalised lessons from Ig: the likes of, “Vanity doesn’t pay” and “Love made devils of us both.”
The really interesting stuff, like the exact details of how and why Ig was “gifted” with the titular horns, is never addressed via a quantifiable mythology, which is more than disappointing given their central position. And there’s no sense - aside from having lost Merrin - of what Ig is giving up to get to the truth. In the book, he’s a respected member of the community. In the film, Ig is merely a cipher with no community or familial respect, nor deep ties to his town. The director reduces Ig ’s demonic transformation into a simplistic, on- the- nose tour of religious iconography, from crosses to snakes, and it all ends up feeling like a series of very hollow ideas strung together.
Radcliffe gets points for being game enough to experiment with a role that certainly takes him another large step away from his Potter days. Ig drinks, has fairly explicit sex, and drops the f- bomb a lot. It doesn’t ruin his career momentum in any way. But we’re left with a frustrating sense of what Ig and Horns could have been with precise storytelling, a more deft hand and an ensemble allowed to come across as characters rather than caricatures.
“Don’t worry darling, I’ll have the horns soon.”