You know, considering how big of a child star Danielle Radcliffe was, he’s doing pretty well for himself. He tends not to take big budget fare and instead prefers to hang around in the indie scene while he polishes his chops. Sure, he was in The Woman in Black, but it’s hardly one of those soulless studio hack horror films that OTHER cast members found themselves in (*cough*The Apparition*cough*). With all that said, let’s look at this dark fairy tale from 2013 called Horns. Is it another example of Daniel Radcliffe building his artist credibility, or is it a misstep in the young actor’s post Harry Potter career? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with our hero named Ig hanging out with his beloved girlfriend (Merrin) and proclaiming his love for her in voice over.
From here we do an interesting transition to sometime later where Ig is waking up on the floor next to a bottle of booze. Right outside his door is a mob asking for his head on a stick. It is several weeks later and his girlfriend has been murdered by someone. Guess who’s the prime suspect?
Yeah, the whole town believes that Ig is the murderer and he just can’t catch a break. There’s not enough evidence to prove someone else did it, and since he’s the boyfriend, everyone assumes he’s guilty. His parent’s don’t seem to believe him either but are still looking out for him anyway, as are his brother (Terry) and his childhood friend (Lee) who also happens to be his lawyer. It’s gotten so bad that he’s been fired from his job as a DJ at the local radio station and he can’t even go to a bar without getting stink eyes from everyone around him. Well, everyone except the hot lady bartender.
I really love this setup and the way it’s been presented to us. We have no idea what happened in the intervening weeks, so it’s not hard to sympathize with those around him who are unsure of his innocence. Whether or not Ig actually did it is still a mystery and Daniel Radcliffe does a great job portraying this character who’s genuinely heartbroken by Merrin’s death and the hard edge he’s developed as a way to cope with everyone around him questioning if he did it and actively terrorizing him in a thinly veiled guise of justice. After a particularly bad night where he secretly observes a memorial ceremony for his girlfriend (which is led by her father and includes plenty of calls for his own head) he starts to trash the memorial in a drunken stupor and wakes up the next day in the bartender’s bed (Glenna who is also a childhood friend). He groggily makes his way to the bathroom where he notices something very strange in the mirror.
That’s right, the titular horns present themselves and Ig is not entirely pleased about this. Oddly enough though, no one seems to notice them and even when they DO acknowledge their existence, they don’t seem all that surprised. Instead, people begin to reveal their base desires to him and ask him if it’s okay to do those things.
Ig isn’t about to have any of this shit so he runs immediately to a doctor’s office to find out what the hell is going on. In the waiting room, other people start confessing their dark desires and Ig discovers another power he has. Apparently, if he touches someone then all their memories (at least regarding what they are currently confessing) get downloaded into his brain which I bet is going to be a SUPER convenient ability some time down the road. He eventually gets to see the doctor who of course is pretty much no help because he too is affected by whatever magic is over taking people when Ig is around them. He gets the doctor to focus long enough to convince him to cut the damn things off which is a pretty dumb move considering he’s trusting this doctor with anesthesia and a hack saw.
Once Ig is under, we begin a flashback. A LONG flashback. It’s mostly just stuff when they were kids and I guess these scenes aren’t BAD but they feel like their interrupting a much more interesting movie. All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t be watching a movie about a guy turning into a devil if I was in the mood for Stand By Me. So what do these scenes establish? Well Ig and Merrin met in church and have basically been dating ever since, and Ig almost drowned to death but was saved by Lee. We also get to learn a bit more about his friends in the present who are in these flashbacks (along with another kid named Eric who hasn’t shown up yet) such as the fact that Lee and Terry clearly also had a thing for Merrin as well. Okay, so we now have two suspects and a bit of backstory, but It still feels a bit long and awkwardly placed at this point in the movie. The guy JUST got his horns but we spend almost fifteen minutes sidetracked by something else that is much less interesting. If these revelations could have been spread out a bit more carefully, then it wouldn’t have felt as unnecessary. Once he wakes up though, everything picks up. He finds that the doctor stopped halfway through the first horn to go fuck the nurse while sucking down Ether. See? I TOLD you this was a bad idea!!
Okay, so medical science has failed to cure his devil syndrome. Where to go to next?
Yeah, that doesn’t work out to well either. The good reverend tells him he’s a demon who’s getting his just rewards for killing Merrin. Then he offers to hang Ig on a tree. Yeah, he’s getting nowhere fast what with everyone acting like a total dick around him. Where could he POSSIBLY find someone who’s not going to be any more evil once he’s around them?
Actually, Lee is completely unable to see them and is not affected in the slightest. Who knew that a lawyer would be able to resist the powers of Satan!? Unfortunately, this means that Lee is unable to help him because he doesn’t believe anything that’s coming out of Ig’s mouth. It gets worse for Ig because now he’s questioning whether or not he DID kill Merrin because he was black out drunk that night. I’m gonna guess that he DIDN’T actually do it, but the mystery as to what actually happened that night is still pretty solid and Daniel Radcliffe is still excellent. He especially gets to shine in the next scene where he goes to his parents’ house because he has no idea where else to go. Bad move on his part.
It’s completely heartbreaking to hear his mother confess to her darkest desires to have Ig just go away and no longer be a problem for them. Ig understands that this is the horns talking, but he also understands that there’s still truth to what she’s saying. Her son probably murdered someone. What the hell else are you supposed to feel about a monstrous deed like that, even if it was committed by your own child? He also gets a similar spiel from his father who always liked his brother more and thought Merrin was the only good thing to ever be associated with him. Yikes. All three actors here (his parents are played by James Remar Kathleen Quinlan) do amazing jobs here portraying the depth of sadness they’ve been carrying around like a dead weight in their psyches and were never supposed to actually say out loud or even think about for too long. After that, he decides that if nothing else, these horns are going to help him find the real murderer and bring that bastard to justice. He drives to a nearby bar and is followed by news reporters who are much more aggressive to him than usual. Ig is tired of their bullshit and promises that whichever news team successfully kicks the other’s ass to the curb gets an EXCLUSIVE interview with him. You can probably guess where this is going, and it’s just as awesome as you think it is.
It gets even better when he’s at the bar where everyone there is fucking nuts. The bartender wants to burn the place to the ground, another guy starts flashing his dick, and a third dude starts trying to stab people with a broken pool cue. Bars may not be the best place to start sending out evil vibes apparently. He starts asking people if they know anything about Merrin’s death, and while no one has an answer to that, one of the barflies knows who in the town is claiming to be a witness and will testify against Ig with damning evidence that he killed her. Well, okay. I didn’t know that he had the power to compel people to reveal stuff like THAT. I figured his horns just caused people to reveal their darkest desires and try to act on them. Well whatever reason the barfly has for telling Ig about this, at least it moves the plot forward. It turns out that the witness was the waitress who served Merrin and Ig at a diner the night she was murdered so Ig has another person to go visit. Also, the bar is burning to the fucking ground but Ig doesn’t really care that much.
Wait a minute; did we just get some information about the night she died? FLASHBACK TIME!! Well at least this flashback is much more relevant to the ongoing story because it lets us know the circumstances surrounding the night she died and why there’s such a laser focus on Ig. The night of the murder, H went to meet Merrin at a diner with an engagement ring in his back pocket. Once there though, it’s clear that this night isn’t going to go his way. Merrin tells him that she wants to break up and that she’s moving to Los Angeles soon which is news that Ig doesn’t exactly take well.
The next morning, Ig is found asleep in his car near where Merrin was murdered. The police wake him up, find him completely hung over, and Ig starts to feel terrible and starts confessing that he was terrible to Merrin. The police (one of whom is Eric from the flashback) obviously take this to mean he’s the one who killed her and haul him for questioning as the flashback ends. Now see, this flashback is much better than the first one! It takes less time than the other one did and gets very important information across to the audience. Back in the present, Ig confronts the waitress who begins to admit that she’s lying to everyone about what she saw (he came back to the diner and dragged Merrin into her car) so that she can get on TV.
Ig doesn’t really have a plan at this point and just runs off to talk to his brother who saw Ig leave the diner that night… as did a whole lot of other people who AREN’T related to him. Furthermore, his brother’s testimonial won’t even disprove the waitress’s story which is that he came back SOME TIME LATER and kidnapped Merrin. Oh well, I guess his investigation is on hold until he can talk to his brother about how shitty things are for him. It’s not even like he was getting anywhere anyway. His brother Terry has a gig at a local club that night, so Ig gets there and waits for the set to be over. We see Glenna is there and offers to suck him off in the bathroom which he politely declines. Glenna then begins confessing that she hates being in this town and only stays because she’s always loved Ig. Ig tells her to forget about him and leave town. That’s it. That’s the last time we see her too. Bit anticlimactic, don’t you think? Anyway, once Terry is done they go outside and he ends up confessing that he was driving Merrin home after Ig left the diner, a detail Terry hasn’t brought up until now. They get in a fight and Ig eventually uses his touching powers to see what Terry did the night of Merrin’s death. Oh hey! That power DID end up being super convenient! It turns out that while Terry was being a Good Samaritan, he tried to put the moves on Merrin and she wasn’t into it. She starts demanding that Terry let her out in the woods though I don’t THINK it’s because of Terry’s creepy come ons. Terry waits by the side of the road in his car for her to come back, but he ends up falling asleep. He wakes up the next morning and finds a shit ton of blood as well as a rock in his car. Terry goes out to the tree house and finds Merrin’s dead body which freaks him the fuck out and he runs to a nearby lake to dispose of the weapon and his blood drenched clothing. So it obviously isn’t Terry because they’re pushing the evidence WAY too hard without actually showing the murder. We’re running out of suspects people! Back in the present, Ig is understandably upset but still doesn’t believe Terry really did it. The cops show up (Eric is one of them) and arrest Ig on trumped up charges. Oh, and the two cops are gay apparently which I’m SURE is going to be SO IMPORTANT later on. The next morning, Lee gets his client out of jail and Ig tries to explain everything he’s learned so far when he notices something odd about Lee.
DONE! We’ve got it! This mystery is in the bag! Who the hell else could it POSSIBLY be? HE’S GOT HER DAMN CRUCIFIX AROUND HIS NECK!! For whatever reason, Ig doesn’t think of this first and instead assumes that Lee and Merrin were fucking behind his back. Distraught he goes to the one person who would know the truth about who Merrin was seeing. Clearly Ig isn’t in his right mind if he’s doing THIS of all things.
I don’t really get this scene. I mean sure Ig is completely emotional and dealing with a lot, but self-preservation alone would behoove you from visiting the pissed of gun toting father of the woman you supposedly murdered. Granted, it means we get a good scene with her dad (played by David Morse), but the scene doesn’t accomplish all that much other than to remind us that he hates Ig’s guts. Obviously the dad is offended by Ig’s questions about whether her daughter was a hussy, so Ig runs off with his tail between his legs, once again accomplishing absolutely nothing. So let’s recap. Since Ig has gotten these awesome powers, he’s found out that someone is lying, found out that someone ELSE is lying, and hasn’t identified the incredibly obvious killer. Ig seems to be as frustrated as I am about his actions, so he spends the night smashing his head against concrete trying to destroy his horns.
During his pissy bout of self-mutilation, a shit ton of snakes start crawling towards him and seem to awaiting their dark master’s orders. Holy Shit! He really DOES have a piece of Voldermort in him! Armed with a legion of snakes and a damn pitchfork he found nearby, Ig has a new goal in life and that’s to fuck with everyone who’s been treating him like shit! That’ll show ‘em I didn’t kill Merrin! First on his list? The psycho waitress who’s spreading all these lies about him.
I’m SURE that’s gonna help his case when she starts telling people that he attacked her with a legion of snakes. On second thought? Yeah that might ACTUALLY help. “THIS DEMON SUMMONED A SHIT TON OF SNAKES TO BITE MY FACE!!” Ig is headed towards his next target when he notices Eric and his partner are tailing him and decides to get them off his ass once and for all. How?
Hm… on the one hand, the cops being gay could be taken as a cheap and offensive joke. On the other, maybe there’s something to this where the movie is trying to show us the relative morality of what we normally consider evil. Ig’s horns and power set are clearly based on Christian symbolism for evil and the devil, yet the powers he has in and of themselves appear to be completely neutral. Revealing someone’s most shamefully and buried desires isn’t always a bad thing, and this is an example of how releasing that burden might help someone rather than destroy them. Still, the overly romantic music and the silly dialogue they exchange do kind of take away from that message. The last person on Ig’s hit list is his brother Terry who he hates now because of reasons. Sure he didn’t tell Ig his minor involvement in Merrin’s death, but it’s not like he’s actively trying to hurt him. Seriously, how would his side of the story have helped Ig? Motherfucker was ASLEEP during the murder! He only found her body AFTER the fact!! Well whatever justification is, Ig takes his vengeance out on his brother under the guise of justified punishment. What does he make him do? He forces his brother to take ALL of the drugs the guy has hidden around the house (he’s a musician so of course he has drugs) and makes him go through a fucking AWESOME trip!
The next day Ig is on the nearby pier, leaning on his car while smoking and scowling at the water. Maybe his wanton quest for vengeance isn’t as fulfilling as he expected? Nah, he probably has fucked with enough people yet. Lee eventually finds him and tries to patch things up which Ig isn’t all too keen to let happen. The two of them get into a fight, and Ig ends up ripping off Merrin’s cross in the process which causes Lee to finally see the horns. Now that he’s no longer protected by Merrin’s magic love necklace, Lee begins to tell Ig the truth which is… are you ready? HE’S THE ONE WHO KILLED MERRIN!! Actually, it is a bit shocking because when we see the flashback to the murder, it’s a lot more gruesome than we were led to believe. Apparently he also raped Merrin before smacking her in the head with a rock. WHAT!?!? HOW THE FUCK HAS HER RAPE NOT BEEN MENTIONED UNTIL NOW!? The townspeople are HOWLING for Ig’s head, yet none of them are willing to also bring up the fact that she was RAPED before getting murdered!? Ig is completely wrecked by this revelation and let’s guard down long enough for Lee to beat him over the head with a chain for a bit before dragging his neigh unconscious ass into the car, dousing it with gasoline, and setting the poor bastard on fire! DAMN!!!
That’s some cold blooded shit right there! The question though is how much of this is Lee’s actual psychosis rather than Ig’s magic powers magnifying Lee’s fucked up behavior? We don’t get an answer, but we DO get to see Harry Potter drive a flaming vehicle into the water! His body doesn’t resurface so Lee goes back into town, tells everyone that Ig confessed everything to him, and then killed himself out of guilt. And so the movie ends with Lee getting away with murder and Ig permanently branded as a monster. Nah, just kidding! Ig is obviously still alive! He’s the boy who lived!! You can’t take him down THAT easy!!
With nothing more than a bunch of burnt flesh and his girlfriend’s cross for his troubles, he heads back to town and goes to see Merrin’s father again. Not sure why, but what’s even odder is that her dad is no longer pissed at him and suddenly believes that he didn’t kill Merrin. He lets the barbequed lad inside and informs him of a key that Merrin left for him. Ig tries to give Merrin’s dad the cross, but instead her dad puts it on him and it apparently heals him of all his wounds as well as removing the horns. The best part is the dad’s non-reaction to seeing a necklace instantly heal devil-boy’s wounds.
Ig now has the key which he recognizes and knows where to use it. There’s a safe in the treehouse they used to hang out in, so he goes there to find what Merrin left him. Inside is a letter where she explained that she had Pretty Cancer. It’s a common condition found in movies where someone is dying of cancer without any adverse effects to their looks but is still quite lethal. It’s very convenient when you have to have a character nobly make a sacrifice before dying horribly while still looking good doing it. Okay, so she’s dying of the same cancer that killed her mother and didn’t want Ig to know about it and waste his life taking care of her. That’s why Merrin had to break his heart and leave him because we all know that making decisions for OTHER people is the best idea! Filled with new found purpose, Ig goes to see Terry at the hospital and apologize to him before he makes his final move against Lee.
After making peace with his bro, he goes out to find Lee who oddly enough doesn’t remember ANYTHING that happened. He doesn’t remember the horns, confessing to Ig, and presumably setting him on fire. Somehow though, he remembered enough to tell everyone Ig was dead. How does this make any sense!? I know we’re dealing with a story about a guy who grows devil horns, but even this is getting to be a bit too much. This plot point doesn’t feel like an organic outgrowth of the powers that have already been established, and instead feels like it was written out of convenience. Lee agrees to follow the presumed dead man who leads him to the place of Merrin’s murder. Ig then tells Lee that he knows everything and that they’re gonna go to the police station so he can confess. Lee’s about to laugh it off when out of the bushes bursts Eric wielding a mother fucking shot gun!!
Terry was apparently able to tip off Eric about this confrontation and they both came to make sure Lee didn’t try anything funny. With a weapon pointed at his back, Lee starts to march out of the woods when he suddenly knocks Eric over and takes the shotgun. The four of them get into an altercation which ends with Terry having a bullet in the leg and Eric…
Things look bleak for the two brothers at this point which forces Ig to use his trump card. He rips off merrin’s cross and it… makes him grow angel wings? Okay… Well Ig only gets these awesome appendages for a few seconds before the burst into flames and he turns into a bad ass hell demon!
Lee, obviously seeing that the shit is hitting the fan pumps a bunch of buckshot into Ig which only mildly irritates him. Lee then picks up Ig’s pitchfork and stabs him through the middle which DOES seem to cause some damage, but Ig eventually gores the fucker with his horn and tosses him aside where the army of snakes finishes him off.
Ig however is mortally wounded from the fight and is slowly dying in Terry’s arms. He finally got his vengeance against the one who took Merrin’s life, but it cost him dearly. Or maybe it didn’t. I don’t know, let’s call it a happy ending.
This movie is SO good in many places, but there are some nagging flaws that keep it from being a truly great film. The flashbacks feel poorly placed and overlong which really hurts the pacing the film and take time away from the much more interesting super natural aspects. That said, the super natural aspects themselves can be a bit hit or miss, what with the inconsistent rules for how the powers work. Not everybody seems to be affected by the horns (Merrin’s dad had absolutely NO adverse reactions), and sometimes they just pull abilities and affects right out of their asses. Some people just tell the truth about something without having any personal insight or connection to that truth, and then the horns disappearing seem to make people’s memories go away. The third act as well is a bit slapdash for me, and call this a person pet peeve but I’m not a huge fan of the main character dying at the end of the film. It just makes someone’s life seem so inconsequential that their entire life can be summed up in this one character arc. All that said, there are a lot of good things about this such as the acting, cinematography, and the practical effects used to make the horns. The mystery itself is pretty decent as well with enough twist and turns to at least keep half of the audience guessing throughout most of the movie. Overall, the movie feels like it lacks polish, but it’s charms are able to overcome those weaknesses, and I would definitely recommend you check this movie out. It’s not like we’re gonna get another Harry Potter film for a while, so at least you can get your Daniel Radcliffe fix in a film that’s actually pretty good.