Although it borrows heavily from classic horror imagery, “Horns” isn’t really a horror movie and despite some clever subversion of religious faith and nifty Easter Eggs where the licence plates of the principle players’ cars point to character-relevant bible chapters it’s not really a religious satire in the vein of “Dogma” either. It works well as a supernatural murder mystery thriller but the formula the movie follows most closely is actually that of the superhero origin movie. In fact, despite the absence of a flaming motorcycle (here ‘retconned’ into a beaten-up old AMC Gremlin), “Horns” may be the most successful cinematic reimagining of “Ghost Rider” to date.
When his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) is brutally murdered, her body abandoned in a forest, Iggy Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is the number one suspect. As the townsfolk turn against him and the media dog his every step, Iggy wakes up one day to find horns growing from his head. But the horns turn out to have an unusual effect on those around him and may just hold the key to finding out who really killed his beloved.
Iggy’s journey through the initial trauma, to discovering his powers and playing with them a little before focussing on bringing Merrin’s killers to justice is textbook superhero story. His ability to compel people to reveal their darkest secrets and desires combined with a growing army of serpents and a handy pitchfork mark him out as a distinctly dark anti-hero but the journey is the same. Don’t expect Samuel L Jackson to pop up in a post-credits stinger or to be seeing “Horns Returns” anytime soon though.
Radcliffe delivers an impressively ragged, raw performance as the angry, grieving and devastated man who, having lost the love of his life finds things only getting worse. The fact a certain boy wizard never pops into your head when you’re watching him play a character with magical powers and an odd affinity for snakes shows just how far he’s come in terms of carving out an interesting and eclectic post-franchise career. Juno Temple’s Merrin provides a suitably bohemian free spirit in the flashbacks and memories to contrast against the increasingly dark Faustian path Iggy has to follow to find her killer. Fair play, though, to young actor Mitchell Kummen who has the thankless task of portraying Iggy at the age of 13; I mean it’s not like anyone really knows what Daniel Radcliffe looked like at that age, is it?
Radcliffe is the engine of this movie and it’s hard to see the original choice, Shia LaBoeuf, being as effective in the role. It’s a stylishly realised adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel keeping much of the amusement and heartbreak of hearing everyone, even your nearest and dearest, confess their most hidden thoughts. While it meanders a little in the middle act and you might guess the true identity of the killer quite early on, it throws in enough twists and revelations that you won’t be completely sure until the reveal.
Veteran horror director Alexandre Aja shows an assured touch here. He’s largely content to let his cast (including supporting turns from Heather Graham, David Morse and Kathleen Quinlan) and the gorgeous New Hampshire landscapes bring the story to life, helped by some impressive visual effects. “Horns” is a satisfyingly sinister, supernatural thriller (with superheroic accents) which delivers a fresh and intriguing take on the nature of Good and Evil.