Director: Alexandre Aja
Writer: Keith Bunin
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
Composer: Robin Coudert
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Juno Temple, Joe Anderson, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, David Morse.
I honestly don’t even know where to start with this film. And that is not a good thing. The premise for Horns sounded promising, and executed well, it could have been a great little film. Problem is, it was definitely not executed well. Not even close.
Just over a decade ago French director Alexandre Aja burst onto the movie scene and in most people’s consciousness with the quite interesting and good horror thriller Haute Tension. The film, starring Cécile de France, was riveting, excellently paced, and while not terribly imaginative or original, it did its job well. Aja has not been able to replicate that success since, and each big budget film he has made showcases his failings as a director, and a troubling trend of explicit hatred of women, manifesting in absurd violence and grotesque punishment of the female body. From The Hills Have Eyes remake to the terrible Piranha 3D, Aja has squandered whatever goodwill his breakthrough directorial effort provided him with.
Aja’s Horns seemed like an opportunity to make up for the errors of the past. Unfortunately, that’s not what has happened. With a script by a first time screenwriter based on a novel by Stephen King’s son, this film tells the story of Ig, a young man accused of raping and murdering his long time girlfriend, and then abandoning her in the forest. Everyone is sure of his guilt, nobody is on his side, so he responds to this vitriolic hate by acting out and drowning himself in alcohol. There are multiple flashbacks to Ig and his friends’ childhood adventures which are supposed to, maybe, shed light on the group dynamics, but are so clunky and incongruent that the end result is a mishmash of two very different movies, the flashbacks reminiscent of a white trash Stand by Me sans the dead body or any point whatsoever.
One morning, after a drunken hookup with the town slut (just when you think the film couldn’t treat female characters worse, it does), Ig wakes to find that he has grown horns. The horns don’t seem to actually upset or even shock those that see them, in fact the moment people avert their gaze, they forget about the horns altogether. These demonic protrusions also have a special power: they seem to bring out the sinful nature of those who look at them, causing either fights, adultery, or even arson. The film attempts to take a stab at dark humor, but the clunky laughable dialogue and over the top scenery chewing acting styles of all involved make the end result just awkward and painful to observe.
There’s also the very bizarre casting choices. The film takes place somewhere in the American Northeast, and yet the main cast is made up of British actors attempting really really bad American accents that at times verge on Southern, which seems to be the preferred vocal stylings of Brits attempting Yankee accents. Especially Juno Temple, the victim of the film, has the most bizarre tone and delivery in what is an already weird and tonally discordant film.
I could go on about the terrible and predictable attempts at plot twists, the embarrassing special effects, the grotesque commentary of the treatment and representation of women, and subpar acting, but at this point it would just be beating a dead horse. In the hands of better filmmakers this film could have been a fun horror romp with a twisted sense of humor. Alas, Horns is just twisted, in the worst way possible.