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Jan 12 15

“Horns” is based on the novel by Joe Hill, and for the life of me I can’t understand how I never got around to reading it. I’ve read all of Joe’s other books and loved them. That’s why I didn’t pay much attention to the mixed reviews this movie received upon its release last fall.

I have no idea how the film compares to the novel (screenplay by Keith Bunin), but I’m happy to say I got a kick out of this flick, which was directed by Alexandre Aja. Part horror-fantasy, part comedy, and part murder mystery, it’s a genre-bending blend of fun.

Twenty-something Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is in a sorry state. Grief-stricken over the murder of his longtime girlfriend (Juno Temple) and wrongfully accused of the crime, he is now a pariah in the Washington logging town where he grew up. Even his parents (James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan) and his drug addicted older brother (Joe Anderson) think he’s guilty of the brutal rape and killing. The ethereally beautiful Merrin was found slain beneath the idyllic treehouse hideaway she shared with Ig, her head caved in by a rock. Ig and Merrin had had a very heated, very public argument on the night in question. It doesn’t help matters that Ig can’t remember anything that happened afterwards, and the only person willing to help him fight the murder charge is his childhood friend Lee (Max Minghella) – a straight-laced public defender who once saved Ig’s life when they were kids.

But even Lee thinks it’s doubtful his friend will be cleared, and Ig is soon overwhelmed by the constant harassment from the media and the town’s residents. After a night of heavy drinking and all-out debauchery, Ig wakes up with a mother of a hangover and something else he wasn’t expecting: a pair of budding horns. The painful protuberances grow fast and he can’t find a way to get rid of them. Oddly enough, his friend Lee is the only one who can’t see the horns. Everyone else is unperturbed when they notice them growing out of Ig’s forehead, and for some reason they can’t resist the urge to confess their sins and secret desires to him. Ig is horrified at first, but then he realizes he can use the horns’ power to help him find Merrin’s killer.

I enjoyed the twists and turns, the flashback scenes and the over-the-top confessions (disturbing and often hilarious). Don’t expect a positive portrayal of small town life in this raunchy, violent supernatural thriller. I also don’t agree with the comparisons to “Twin Peaks.” That TV show was a whole different sort of surreal – and it had quite a few likeable characters. I can’t say I liked any of the characters in this movie except for Ig and Merrin. (Well, perhaps Merrin’s devastated father, played by David Morse.)

Daniel Radcliffe’s intensely emotional performance is superb, as is Juno Temple’s. (They both achieve convincing American accents as well.) I think if a less talented actor had taken on the role of Ig Perrish, the results could have been disastrously corny. Even when Ig begins to embrace the dark side, seemingly becoming a real devil, it didn’t strike me as cheesy or implausible. Radcliffe has an appealing presence and it was easy to care about his unfortunate character.

I’d recommend this film to fans of dark fantasy and horror (who don’t mind a hefty dose of black comedy). It’s devilishly delightful. (Pun intended.)