2014, R, 120 min. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Heather Graham, Kathleen Quinlan, Joe Anderson, David Morse, James Remar.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 31, 2014

Horns is a spiky fable about the devil in all of us. Wrongly accused of killing his childhood sweetheart, twentysomething Iggy (a game Radcliffe) has hit rock-bottom, wracked by an internalized guilt compounded by the Gone Girl media frenzy surrounding the grisly crime. One morning following a night with Jack Daniels and a promiscuous barkeep, he awakes to find horned protuberances sprouting from his forehead, a metaphorical manifestation of how others perceive this fallen angel. His provocative appearance has a startling effect upon anyone with whom he comes in contact: It elicits the person’s inner demons (or dark desires, depending how you look at it) like a wacky truth serum. The Valium-medicated mother of a screaming toddler in a doctor’s office reception area confides her wish to abandon her family and screw her golf pro; the receptionist angrily berates the mother for her lack of parenting skills; the bratty child expresses thoughts of matricide. Even Iggy’s parents condition their seemingly unconditional love for their prodigal son in no uncertain terms. It’s no wonder: The poor guy looks like hell.

The movie works best as a whodunit with a pointed twist. Upon realizing the only way to remedy his PR problem is to solve his girlfriend’s murder, Iggy zooms around his sleepy Washington town in a red-hot Gremlin, working on a mystery without any clues until his strange new power unfolds the events of the fateful night upon which she died. (Actually, a big reveal occurs early in the film, if you think about it.) But once the killer’s identity is revealed, this allegory about the perils of perception unwisely enters a fourth act, becoming a horror-tinged fantasy in which the script’s symbolic conceit turns literal. The tightrope between the real and the unreal is a delicate one to walk, and one wrong move can be unforgiving. That’s the dilemma of Horns.

As the bedeviled Iggy, Radcliffe strives admirably, with mixed results. A performer of greater stature might have played the part more effectively, particularly the film’s darker scenes. (Physically, Radcliffe is more Pan than Mephistopheles.) No doubt the young actor is working hard to shake his Harry Potter image here: He smokes, drinks, swears, pisses, and fucks his way through this movie, often in a state of half-undress. It’s the conundrum many a child star has faced in adulthood, from Mickey to Judy to Elizabeth to Kurt to Drew to Elijah – how to grow up onscreen without alienating your audience. For Radcliffe in Horns, it’s a case of damned if you, damned if you don’t.

See “Mess with the Genres, You’ll Get the Horns,” for our interview with Alexandre Aja.

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More Horns
Mess With the Genres, You'll Get the <i>Horns</i>
Mess With the Genres, You'll Get the Horns
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Horns, Alexandre Aja, Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Heather Graham, Kathleen Quinlan, Joe Anderson, David Morse, James Remar

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