If Horns reminds you of old Stephen King movie adaptations like Christine, Cujo, and Stand By Me, that’s partly because it’s based on a novel by Joe Hill, who is King’s son. The setting has been shifted from the Kings’ beloved New England to the Pacific Northwest, but the story still features the irruption of the supernatural into the banal lives of small-town folks. This bizarre black-comedy horror film opens only at AMC Parks at Arlington this week, and it’s worth seeing both for novelty value and for Daniel Radcliffe’s performance.
He plays Ignatius Perrish, who wakes one morning from a drunken binge and finds two horns growing from his head. Nobody else seems to find this terribly odd, but the horns do seem to compel people to share their darkest deeds and worst thoughts with Ig — his own parents (James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan) tell him that he’s a creepy little loser and they wish they’d never had him. To be fair, they and most everyone else in town believe Ig is guilty of raping and murdering his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) after she broke up with him. The few exceptions include Ig’s strung-out older brother (Joe Anderson) and the guy who actually did it.
In the tradition of those old King movies, the filmmaking here is shambolic. Hill has inherited his dad’s talent for spinning page-turning plots, but French director Alexandre Aja (Mirrors, the remake of The Hills Have Eyes) can’t keep up, so a movie that probably should have been 90 minutes comes out two hours long. The flashback to the meeting between young Ig and Merrin (Mitchell Kummen and Sabrina Carpenter) is artlessly done, as is the mystery plot with Ig trying to figure out who killed Merrin. Even the bits that are supposed to be scary get botched, as when Ig takes revenge on a waitress (Heather Graham, in dire form) who’s spreading lies about him. The movie also excises Hill’s antireligious satire, which is regrettable because it loses the funniest part of the book, when Ig delivers a sermon bashing God as a sadistic, untalented popular novelist.
What keep this movie watchable are the lead actors. Temple is a British actress who’s more comfortable playing trashy American girls as opposed to the ethereal Merrin, but she’s why the flashback to Merrin meeting her death is appropriately horrible instead of merely exploitive. Opposite her, Radcliffe emotes as if this were an Oscar project, doing well by the comedy of the early scenes when Ig reacts to strangers telling him about their sex fantasies but also spewing grief and fury on behalf of his beloved Merrin and doing a great controlled burn as Ig confronts his brother with his cowardice and selfishness. Next Halloween, you can get the DVDs of Horns and Tusk together and throw a protuberance party for your friends, and it will be a blast.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Written by Keith Bunin, based on Joe Hill’s novel. Rated R.