Horns

Harry does Hill

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Penny dreadful - Tara Ben­nett

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

Daniel Rad­cliffe’s

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.”

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