Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

MOVIE REVIEW: HORNS

 

October 27, 2014

Some guys just have a thing for snakes and it seems that our favorite parseltongue speaking Daniel Radcliffe is no different. In his new film, the devilishly delicious HORNS from director Alexandre Aja, Radcliffe flexes his serpentine skills yet again, this time as the young Ig Perrish. A supernatural thriller that in almost genre-bending fashion melds the battle of good versus evil with tines of fantasy, romance, a noirish murder mystery and even a little gothic flair, this decadent delight is a multi-pronged, interwoven tapestry of Biblical allegory that pushes the boundaries to almost sacrilegious silliness but then artfully reins itself in with the strength of performances, indelible visuals and pure unadulterated fun.

Ig Perrish and Merrin Williams are heaven sent. Friends since childhood, smitten with each other almost as long, and passionately in love since forever, they are pure joy, ethereal joy. But just as Ig proposes marriage to Merlin, all hell breaks loose. Merlin not only rejects him, but dumps him. Hurt, angry and confused, Ig drinks himself into a drunken stupor only to awaken the next morning to learn that Merlin was found dead at the base of their idyllic treehouse in the forest. Ig is the number one suspect.

Everyone turns against him. The town, his friends, his family; all but for his best friend Lee who is now a public defender and representing Ig. But the pressure is too much. Having long ago turned away from religion despite his mother's strong faith and weekly Sunday attendance in church, he rejects ideas to pray for help and guidance. Next morning, again with a violent hangover, Ig wakes up to find horns growing out of his head.

As if not shunned and looked down upon enough already, Ig is desperate to have them removed. But when he goes to the doctor, the doctor doesn't see the horns. In fact, no one does. Is Ig crazy or is everyone else? But then a strange thing happens, people start to confess things to Ig and tell him the absolute truth, but then never remember doing it. Ig soon realizes the power he now has and determines to use it to find the person who did murder Merlin. Doesn't take long before he's carrying a pitchfork and commanding all variety of snakes while seeking vengeance on all.

Has Ig sold his soul to the Devil or is he the Devil incarnate? Or is there now a divine plan in motion which he is too blind to see?

Daniel Radcliffe is the perfect person to play Ig Perrish. Choosing to embrace Radcliffe's globally recognized wizarding past, director Aja himself saw the irony - and humor - of Radcliffe coming back into a magic and the supernatural, while also recognizing the depth of emotion that Radcliffe now brings to his adult performances. While one may think Radcliffe wouldn't be too keen to jump back into a magical world, the allegory of Joe Hill's novel and Keith Bunin's adapted screenplay proved irresistible. With exuberant excitement, Radcliffe extolls the beauty of the written word. "Joe's world, in and of itself, is so striking and real and exciting that there was never a moment that I was thinking - and of course, because Potter was such a part of my life - I never think of the comparisons that other people might make or similarities that might be drawn. The thing that attracted me to [HORNS] was the fact that it was so bold and so heartbreaking and beautiful. And this guy's journey was something I really connected to. I feel like the allegory of turning into what you are perceived as or feeling like an outsider or being made to feel like an outsider is very strong and something that I, and hopefully a lot of people, can connect to. There was, as you said, such delight in bringing from style to genre. It was so witty at the same time as being dark and the love story obviously, so poignant. There was so much going on that it was exciting."

As Ig, Radcliffe's excitement is carried into his performance as he is intense, strong, emotionally powerful. You feel Ig's quiet rage and frustration and pain emanate from the screen. The fury, and the calm, are palpable and believable. Radcliffe brings a maturity to the role feels right, rings true. Your heart bleeds for Ig in certain scenes where he is being pursued by the media and paparazzi trying to sensationalize accusations of murder. One can't help but connect to the media frenzy that has long surrounded the actor himself, something again, that Alex Aja saw as an added layer to the story. Radcliffe knows how to convey pain and frustration and angst and nails it here. We've watched him in fantasy and magic his entire life so it's natural to accept him now as the man who grows horns. It feels right with him as Ig. Exceptional is his performance in the third act as truths are revealed and Ig has a rising lust for vengeance which takes on visual connotations through the commanding of hundreds of serpents. Radcliffe slides into that aspect of the character like butter melting on the hot coals of hell. Smoooooth.........

Juno Temple is an elfin angel. As Merrin, her spirit floats, her smile is infectious and sweet. As Temple herself acknowledges, "so much of that is my cinematographer." While cinematographer Frederick Elmes does lens Temple with an ethereal essence and light, it is the purity of emotion that comes from Temple herself.

Supporting cast are outstanding, starting with Kathleen Quinlan who is ideal as Ig' mom, Lydia. Naturally presenting with a calm, maternal vibe, Quinlan goes for broke and turns a dime with comedic perfection when Lydia is made powerless by Ig's horns and speaks the truth about her life, her sons. Quinlan is rapier with hilarity and dialogue delivery. According to Quinlan, "It was a joy to play Daniel's [Ig's] mother. He's such a good boy. I relished the chance to 'go for it.'" David Morse walks a fine line as bereft and angry father, Dale Williams, while bringing an emotional shift that keeps the audience on tenterhooks as to which way his emotion will swing. Solid, strong, always with conviction, poignantly beautiful is an exchange between Morse and Radcliffe that puts a lump in the throat just watching. Joe Anderson is quite simply a kick in the ass as Ig's brother, Terry, and never more so that in a supremely decadent hallucinogenic drug-ingesting scene between he and Radcliffe. Anderson pushes the boundaries of the character to new limits in keeping with the tone of the story and the film as a whole. Interesting performance comes from Max Minghella who, as Ig's best friend and attorney Lee, bodes an aura of untrustworthiness which thankfully we see come to fruition with resolution and explanation why one feels uneasiness with his character throughout the film. Nice turn by Minghella. Heather Graham is ideal as the red-lipsticked, red-polished, red-shoed waitress Veronica. The perfect temptress.

Alexandre Aja has put together a marvelous package of delicious decadent fun on every level. Written by Keith Bunin based on Joe Hill's novel, HORNS is structured and written much like a Grimms Fairy Tale. The use of the color in the visual aspect of the film and the fantastical nature of the story transport us into a world of just enough fantasy to skew the line with reality - much like ABC's "Once Upon A Time". Witty dialogue is a hallmark with double entendre, tongue-in-cheek lines aplenty, e.g., "Are you horny?" Thanks to director Alex Aja's visualization and conceptualization of the material, the are initially visually transported into a world and a love that has a magical purity to it, with black comedy kicking in, while grabbing every Biblical touchstone at the disposal of both Hill and Bunin.

Frederick Elmes cinematography is beauteous. His use of light, shooting digitally for a polished stylized look is celebratory in Ig and Merrin's "Eden" at the treehouse in the forest, richly textured and warm at Ig's parents house, comfortable old school at Mr. Williams house, and cold, stark, callously empty yet textured at the logging waterfront. Elmes makes great use of dutching that helps tonally fuel the fantasy. Lensing plays with close-ups and slo-mo pans in the treehouse that leads to breathtaking result, particularly when framing Juno Temple. Visuals are sumptuous, particularly with the use of red and the particular shade of red used. Just explodes with metaphor.

And when it comes to fantasy, the make-up and VFX guys DAZZLE, not just with the horns per se, but with a stunning metamorphosis of Ig in the film's final climactic moment that sums up the entire metaphor of Ig in one scene. WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW! Those are some HOT effects!!!!!

Allan Cameron's production design is key to HORNS and nothing is more lush and beautiful than the hideaway in the forest. A Garden of Eden - sunlit light green ferns capture the buoyancy of Juno Temple's elfin angelicism. Decadently delicious, we see Eve and her bright red apple thematic come to life in a diner den of iniquity with waitress Heather Graham as the metaphoric apple itself. Snakes abound (according to Radcliffe himself, one scene "had over 100 different snakes"), which adds a knowing laugh-out-loud humor given this is the boy who could converse with the snakes of Slytherin. Ig's HORNS are more holy than hellish and have the effect of Wonder Woman's golden lariat. And I know there's something in the Bible that forces truth be spoken but offhand I can't recall what it is. Everything is visually and tonally perfect.

Robin Coudert's score compliments the visual and emotional tone nicely with an eclectic palette that goes hand in hand with the tonal bandwidth of the film as a whole.

Devilishly delicious, decadent fun, HORNS is a highlight of Halloween at this movies this year!

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Written by Keith Bunin based on the novel by Joe Hill

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, David Morse, Kathleen Quinlan, Joe Anderson, Heather Graham

 

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