I’ve always had an affinity for films that boldly walk the tightrope, that very fine line that could lead to either success or a flat-out disaster. Whatever group a particular work falls into, it almost always results in a riveting time at the cinema. Director Alexandre Aja who’s responsible for genre favourites such as High Tension and the stellar remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha is the latest filmmaker risking it all with his most recent offering, Horns. It’s easily his biggest leap forward as an artist.
Horns is about Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), a young man who finds himself accused of the murder of his soulmate Merrin Williams (Juno Temple). One day, he wakes up to find horns growing out of his head. Somehow this gives him the ability to force people he comes in contact with to tell the truth and reveal their secrets. Ig uses his newfound ability to help solve the mystery behind Merrin’s death. A premise this outside of the box could easily be a recipe for disaster. Thankfully Aja gets the tone spot on from the start and never lets it slip. Horns marvellously succeeds as not only an affecting romantic fairy tale but as well as a dark comedy and a compelling mystery. The sequences in which people around Ig’s horns begin to reveal some truly outrageous, twisted secrets are pretty hysterical without ever edging into camp. The romance between the two leads is beautifully understated and the mystery element is involving.
It definitely helps that Aja is backed by an excellent cast (which also includes Joe Anderson, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Max Minghella, David Morse, Kathleen Quinlan and a very memorable turn by Heather Graham) that handles the material pitch-perfectly despite how silly the story can get. The real revelation in Horns and most likely the main reason for its success has got to be Daniel Radcliffe’s strong performance. If any role can help shed away the Harry Potter label thus far, this is it. His focus and commitment scene after scene is a marvel to behold. He definitely anchors the picture at its most venerable state especially during the violent, over-stuffed third act. I haven’t read the book so I’m not sure how true to source the final product ends up being. Author Joe Hill was at the premiere screening and he seemed genuinely pleased by the final results.
Aja has attempted something different with every project but still sticking within the horror genre. The one thing that connects his body of work is that signature brutality and ferocious edge. Even something as humorous as Piranha shocked me with its unflinching violence especially during the now iconic spring break massacre. I always feel unsettled and untrusting in Aja because of his tendency to hit the viewer hard without a hint of notice. That tension is present all throughout Horns. When the violence explodes, you’ll no doubt react. KNB EFX has done yet another first-rate job especially with Ig’s ever-changing make-up. The ambitious CGI work is also very impressive.
With Horns, Aja has shown his greatest leap as a filmmaker thus far. The delicacy in which he handles the love story is prime example. Despite its share of contrivances, I was invested in these characters and captivated by this unusual tale. Horns is an audacious, wonderfully twisted romantic horror fantasy. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen and probably will see from the genre in some time.