The secret to appreciating Horns is to ignore the depths and appreciate the surface. That’s probably not a very holy way to live your life, but it’s the best way to enjoy this film.
R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use
The Devil and Daniel Radcliffe
Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) “loves” Marin. Before we get to know the characters, we understand that Marin is dead and that Ig has been accused of her murder.
The word “love” gets scare quotes because the movie uses it to justify all sorts of horrible things, yet it doesn’t bother to convince you that the love is real. Ironically, Daniel Radcliffe’s character in What If tells his girlfriend that what he learned from his divorced parents is that love is too often used to justify all sorts of horrible things, and he doesn’t want to be like that.
After a bender at the location of Marin’s death, Ig wakes up cursed. He has horns on his head, and strangers start confessing their most embarrassing desires to him. Also, they take his every suggestion as a command. It’s a setup that could have inspired Rod Serling to pound out another solid episode of The Twilight Zone.
Ig’s goal is twofold: figure out what’s going on with the horns, and find out who really killed Marin. Ig seeks help from family and friends. Unfortunately, his parents (James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan) fall under his spell and confess that they really wish he’d just disappear. His brother Terry (Joe Anderson), a trumpet player, doesn’t seem at first to have much dirt to confess, and he offers Ig a bit of brotherly support. Only Ig’s childhood friend Lee (Max Minghella), a lawyer, is immune to the spell. He doesn’t even see Ig’s horns.
The movie spends time in flashbacks to when they were all childhood friends from the same church, playing with cherry bombs and Morse code.
Shallows of Hell
What the movie does well is to assemble a world full of original-sin imagery. There are little chuckles like serpents and pitchforks. Ig even drives an awesome AMC Gremlin. A second-act development takes place at Eve’s diner, which Ig and Marin used to frequent. Eve’s neon logo is a red apple, of course. Veronica (Heather Graham) is a tempting waitress who wouldn’t mind taking advantage of Ig’s new-found power.
Just don’t look for any meaning behind the symbols. Horns is not a soul-deep exploration. For example, when, as the premise demands, strangers are compelled to confess their most shameful temptations, screenwriter Keith Bunin reaches for the third-grader’s book of dirty words, instead of saying something funny that’s also true.
The plot is driven by the same shallow motivations. For Ig so loved Marin that he’d be willing to kill people to avenge her death. Ig is not interested in clearing his name, exposing her killers to the community, nor seeking satisfaction in the truth. For him it’s just blind, personal revenge... because, you know, “love.”
Even that sort of plot might have worked if it would have cost Ig any part of his soul, but that’s not the kind of movie Horns is.
If you do find yourself at Horns, your best bet is to calibrate your expectations. If you can skim the surface, appreciate the visual references, and ignore the interpersonal repercussions, you might have a hell of a time. But some of us won’t be joining you.