I read Joe Hill’s novel “Horns” when it first came out — purely on the basis of having read his chillingly fantastic debut “Heart-Shaped Box” — and despite it not being precisely what I had expected, I loved it. I went in expecting another horror story, and got…well, I’m not sure exactly. But it was a brilliant novel.
I’ve already put on record that I think that Daniel Radcliffe is indeed capable of carrying the leading role, but I do worry that the very unplaceable genre of the film might cause it problems. Its release, in the run up to Halloween, will have only reinforced in the minds of audiences that it is a horror film, whereas if they have adapted it anything true to form, it really isn’t.
From my perspective, there is always a danger of going into a film having read the book it is based on/adapted from. Can I separate the one from t’other, or will I only be able to judge it based on how well it visualises my own imagining of the novel? Let’s find out.
Horns is the story of Ignatius Perrish (Radcliffe), a young man demonised in his home town being believed to have murdered his girlfriend, Merrin Williams (Juno Temple). Ig wakes up after a night of drinking to find that he is growing a pair of horns; and not only that, the horns force people to confess their darkest thoughts and desires. Armed with this strange new weapon, Ig sets out to discover who really killed Merrin, and what really happened that night.
So, I did initially judge it on the book, I’ll admit. And that turned out a mixed bag for the film. The majority is a pretty faithful — if necessarily not complete — adaptation, whereas the last portion winds off down its own path a little.
But first thing’s first. Mr Radcliffe. Now, I have been a little harsh on Daniel Radcliffe in the past. The Harry Potter films were badly made (Yeah, Tumblr’s gonna love that one… -Ed), and he was woefully miscast in The Woman in Black. But here he absolutely nails it. He also proves that he really does have a strong talent for acting, given the right role. I completely believed him as Ig, in the drunken angry moments, to the heartbreaking moment when the final truth about Merrin is revealed, in a letter she left behind. That scene had me sobbing in the novel, and I wasn’t far off in the film.
Juno Temple’s portrayal of Merrin was not quite as strong, but still very good. She looked the part, and the only weakness was the lack of substance she was given in the story — she only appears via flashback, and then through the filter of Ig’s memory.
Of the other characters, Joe Anderson as Ig’s brother Terry gave a strong performance, as did Michael Minghella as Ig’s maybe-friend Lee Torneau — though a big section of his character’s backstory from the novel got cut, so that didn’t help him. One character I think they got wrong was Glenna — I had always imagined her as chubbier, more obviously damaged as a person.
The plot itself jerks around a bit. Partly that’s because the story is horror one moment, human drama the next, with a very strong (and well-executed) strain of romantic tragedy running throughout. The ending goes batsh*t bananas, though. It seems to sub in a more action-y resolution, which I found out of step with the rest of the film. There were far simpler — but still as emotionally weighty — ways to conclude which it could have taken, and I feel like this was a sacrifice made for the studios.
But no. I really liked Horns, as a film in its own right as well as an adaptation of a novel I love. It completeley understood that the central and most important element is the relationship between Merrin and Ig, and how even after the former’s death, it still defines him. The tragedy is lightened by some genuinely funny moments, particularly in the first half, and sold by some fantastic acting by its leading man.
It wasn’t a perfect film, but I found it powerfully moving, a beautifully told story of right and wrong, loss and the painful side of love. I would definitely recommend seeing it.