If Horns has a problem — beyond starring Daniel Radcliffe — it’s one of tone. At times, it seems like it wants to be a dark comedy, but these moments only come in spurts. Most of the time, it’s more tragic than comedic. It’s tough to tell how you’re supposed to take the film. Are you supposed to be laughing with it, or scared of it? Even during what are supposed to be emotional or scary moments, it’s tough to take them that way. But they’re not that funny, either. The film is just there, and you watch it, and that’s it. There’s no connection.
I had thought of another opening but I completely forgot it. It was something about going through Hell, or Satan, or something. Like I said, I can’t remember, but it was going to transition smoothly to the plot, which involves Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) attempting to solve the murder of his girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple). The people of his town believe he killed her; he knows he’s a good enough person that there’s no way he did. Oh, and one morning he wakes up with horns on his head, and for some reason everyone asks his permission to do awful things.
Take, for example, the scene in which Ig visits the doctor’s office. In the waiting room, a kid is being very annoying. The mother turns to Ig and asks if she should kick her daughter. Or if she should leave her daughter there and get a divorce so that she could marry her golf instructor. These are not things you disclose or ask of a stranger, but these occurrences become more frequent. Ig soon realizes that “bad” people can’t lie to him, and he’ll use his new-found powers to find the true killer and bring him to justice.
We also get a lot of flashbacks, some of which come from Ig’s “interrogations,” while others are just the filmmakers deciding that now is the right time to clue the audience in to an important scene from the past. It sometimes feels like 50% of the film is comprised of flashbacks. That takes us out of the narrative. Used sparingly, this could have been effective, but it feels like it happens way too much.
We watch the film and get to see Ig physically change over its duration. The horns grow larger. The film gives him reasons to be splattered with red things — blood, paint, whatever — and he gets a pitchfork. Hmm, I wonder what the film wants us to think of. And yet, his personality doesn’t really change at all. He physically transforms as we watch, but he’s basically the same person at the beginning as he is at the end, just with supernatural powers. I’m not saying he should become evil for the sake of it — hi, Electro, Green Goblin, The Lizard, etc., all from The Amazing Spider-Man films — but some growth would have gone a long way.
It also might have allowed Daniel Radcliffe to do something good with the role, instead of being in one of two modes: drunk, or emotionless. Radcliffe can be charming, as he showed earlier this year in What If, but here he’s mostly just bland. Also, we should really never try to make him do an American accent ever again. Just trust me on this one. He can’t do it well.
There are good aspects to Horns. The titular horns look quite impressive and real, which certainly helps with the film’s believability — I can’t believe I just wrote that. There are some decent special effects near the end, as well as some dodgy ones, like whenever fire is needed. The supporting cast contains some names you’ll recognize, all of whom are better than Radcliffe here: Juno Temple, James Remar, Heather Graham, Max Minghella, and David Morse are all in the film. And there are a couple of truly hilarious moments.
Horns is not exactly a success, primarily because it doesn’t understand what tone it’s trying to go for. Or, its director doesn’t understand. It plays out like a black comedy, even though it doesn’t really fit that mold and doesn’t often try to make us laugh; it’s weird to try to describe it. It’s also pretty shallow, and its overuse of flashbacks drew me out of the narrative more often than it helped. It’s got a good supporting cast and some of the effects are decent, but Horns isn’t worth your time.