Saturday, October 17, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—Horns (2013) **

R, 120 min.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Keith Bunin, Joe Hill (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, David Morse

So, I seem to have gone for a Stephen King related start to my Horrorfest ’15. For those of you who aren’t aware Joe Hill, the author of the novel “Horns” upon which this movie is based, is the son of King. His writing is very similar to King’s. From what I’ve read of his, he might be even better than his father. I have not read “Horns”, however, so I came into this movie fresh. I’m a little shocked at how similarly this story is structured to some of his father’s work. It definitely shares some character structure with the stories of King’s “It” and “Dreamcatcher”. It also may share King’s curse of having horror maestros mishandle the material.

Alexandre Aja has never struck me as a truly great horror director, but I like that this story reigns in some of his tendency toward extreme gore, which I’ve never found particularly scary. With the restraint inherent in the story, Aja could make a fairly good match for Hill, who likes little outbursts of gore within a well told story, focusing more on character and atmosphere than action and shocks. Hill understands that character is the key to horror. I’m not sure that Aja agrees, but I like seeing him forced to try.

Daniel Radcliffe plays a man whose girlfriend has recently been killed. He is the prime suspect in her murder. It becomes quite obvious from the outset that this is a story with a good deal of flashbacks since the second billed actor is the woman playing the dead girl. Juno Temple plays the murdered and is the most intriguing character of the film. Not so much because she’s written that way, but more so because she’s played by Temple, who seems to have a good handle on remaining mysterious even when playing a seeming free spirit.

Not only does the film flashback to the days before the murder to show us Radcliffe and Temple’s romance, but it also flashes back to their childhoods where we meet Radcliffe’s group of friends. This is where the story resembles King’s work so much. The characters are pretty archetypal. There’s the best friend, the distempered fat kid, the tomboy (a different girl), the protective older brother and the new girl that everyone is fascinated by (the future dead girl). Of course, all these characters also exist in adult versions in the present and it couldn’t be more obvious which one actually killed the girl.

The twist of the tale is that Radcliffe wakes one morning after a drunken bender to find that he is sprouting horns from his head. From this point on he is imbued with a power to influence people and they are compelled to speak only the truth to him. The film is a little vague on exactly what his powers are, which at first just seems to be the truth thing, but later he tells a couple of reporters who won’t leave him alone to attack each other and they do. It seems this development could have been further explored by the movie, especially considering the ultimate nature of the horns, but by that point in the film, the filmmakers seem to be rushing to finish off the plot.

It’s possible to see the potential of the premise, but the movie never really gets there. The characters are too flat, and the mysticism remains too undefined. I would imagine that Hill’s highly lauded novel handles it better than the film. Radcliffe is an interesting choice to play the lead who needs to be a considerable jerk to become as hated by the townspeople as he is here, and it’s admirable for an actor who has become so defined by his previous work to try and break away from his past roles. I think he’s capable, but the movie just never really allows the characters to live and breathe past their archetypes. I hope future Joe Hill adaptations fare better than this one.

No comments: