The devil takes the hindmost
Horns, mystery/horror, rated R, Center for Contemporary Arts, 2.5 chiles Daniel Radcliffe continues to stretch himself beyond the Harry Potter movies with a slew of engaging new roles — and his work in Horns is no exception. He is the standout among an exceptional and mostly believable cast in this quirky horror film with a mystery at its core. Horns has an interesting premise, opening with Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) already under suspicion for the brutal rape and murder of his girlfriend and first love, Merrin (Juno Temple), evil deeds for which he claims innocence. It doesn’t help his cause when he sprouts ever-growing devil horns on his head. But, along with the horns, Ig comes into possession of an unusual power: the ability to see the truth within the lies of those around him. In time, he takes this gift to its logical conclusion in his hunt to uncover Merrin’s real killer.
Horned as he is, Ig becomes the catalyst for making others act on their worst instincts, the appendages effectively bringing out the devil in everyone but himself. These scenes could afford opportunities for surprising twists and turns. Unfortunately, however, many of them are played for laughs — what could have been one hell of a creepfest instead goes off the rails during the absurd comedic moments that often feel forced. Notable among them are the passion of two male police officers who secretly harbor a sexual attraction for each other and the underused Heather Graham camping it up as a waitress who frames Ig for her chance at 15 minutes of fame.
Despite its often-misplaced humor, Horns has some genuinely ghoulish (and one or two downright gross-out) parts, particularly when Ig discovers some ugly truths about Merrin’s final moments. The computer-generated snakes that follow Ig everywhere like baby ducklings behind their mother seem over the top and not particularly convincing. Symbolism in the film is far from subtle — the protective powers of Merrin’s cross and its ability to keep the devil at bay are an example. The setting is lush, though, and, snakes aside, the effects mostly work, making the movie at least great to look at. Beyond that, it is gravely lacking in substance and cynical in how it portrays most of the townies. Radcliffe convincingly plays Ig as a desperate man with nothing left to lose. But when he realizes the extent of his horns’ powers, the script takes him dangerously close to superhero territory (after exhausting humor, horror, mystery, and drama), and we already have a Hellboy, thank you very much.
— Michael Abatemarco