Horns is a children’s fairytale in the Hans Christian Andersen mould, combining a dreamy, childlike tone with jarring moments of gory violence.
It has something of the Pan’s Labyrinth about it, but where Guillermo del Toro’s film never flinches from its stygian vision, Alexandre Aja’s has a perpetually arched eyebrow. It follows Ig (Daniel Radcliffe), a smalltown hick who somehow bagged the local babe (Juno Temple, whose remit never stretches beyond “archetypal girl next-door”). Then she gets murdered and everybody thinks he did it and he inexplicably grows a pair of horns. Sometimes you can’t catch a break.
The horns come with side effects – people feel the need to brag to him about their sins, act out their indecent fantasies (“I’ve always wanted to show everyone in this bar my d**k”) and do anything unpleasant he asks of them. Do you think these skills could help Ig work out who killed his girlfriend?
There’s plenty of Biblical symbolism – snakes, pitchforks, crucifixes, horns – but they feel more like the results of a brainstorming session than an integral part of the narrative. Ig can command snakes. Why? He just can. It feels like it wants to be an allegory, but to what end is unclear: “don’t trust anyone because people are all pretty unpleasant” doesn’t feel particularly enlightening.
That Aja makes no attempt to explain how Ig’s powers work goes in his favour – it means you never ask too much of Horns; it’s silly and surreal and you just accept it, in the same way Ig’s friends and family just accept that he’s grown a gigantic pair of devil horns. The set pieces are slick – a brutal brawl among the gathered media is great fun – and it consistently entertains until the final 25 minutes, when too much weight is piled on the pseudo-religious premise. That it descends into sugary sentimentality feels like a cop out for a movie whose overriding tone is one of irreverence.
First published in City A.M.