Beyond Fest Review: Alexandre Aja Adapts Joe Hill’s Horns

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review score 6horns640Ignatius Perrish loved Merrin Williams from the moment the light of her cross necklace caught his eye from his church pew. They were just kids then, but their love lasted well into their adult years. It seemed that no force could break the bond they shared, until one dreadful night, when Merrin lost her life in the woods to a mysterious foe. Once her fate becomes public knowledge, Ig is instantaneously targeted as the main suspect. His motive as the boyfriend keeps his name in the papers, but the lack of evidence keeps him out of jail. For now. Just when it seems that Ig has been through hell and back, he wakes one morning to find that he has sprouted horns atop his head, and they may be helpful in recovering the truth about Merrin’s death.

Based on the 2010 novel by Joe Hill, Horns tells the tale of a man who uses his newfound cranial decor to bring out the devil in everyone around him. Once he realizes that his pointy companions force people to confess their sins, act out their worst behavior, and obey his commands, Ig maneuvers his horns to help him find out who really killed Merrin. But, at what cost? The more he exercises his horns, the more the demon attached to them rears its ugly head. Just how much is Ig willing to give up to make peace with his past? Fans of the book will be expecting a revenge tale, but what you’re in for is more of a murder mystery. Although it’s an interesting angle, director Alexandre Aja fails to commit to the dark, satirical style, and thereby makes a great film, instead of one of the best of the year.

Daniel Radcliffe is perfect as Ig; the man who loses himself in his own anguish. Radcliffe understands the balance between Ig’s guilt, his cynicism, and his morality, and he walks the line well. It’s exciting to see him shine in such an ominous and complex role. Paired with Juno Temple’s sweet, sultry performance, the two share some seriously steamy moments. The vivacious, dreamy aesthetics beautifully echo Joe Hill’s romantic, angst-ridden fantasy, and keep you wholly engaged throughout the feature. Aja demonstrates his growth as a director, and proves that he’s in a league above the rest, with the likes of Ti West and James Wan.

Aja really understands Joe Hill’s humor, and spends the first half of the film molding a world of sick, twisted laughs and outrageous circumstances. However, about halfway through the movie, he abandons the grim chuckles, throwing off the balance of this genre-bending world, and allows the melodrama to completely take over. Ig constantly reminds the audience of his guilt, and how much he loves Merrin, two facts which are blindingly apparent already at this point in the story. The persuasion of his horns seems to wane as well, as there are far less admissions from strangers and acts of deviant behavior in their presence. It would be more beneficial to the story’s success to limit the scenes spent on Ig’s self-loathing nature, and play up his newfound powers. In the novel, Ig can speak in other peoples’ voices, use fire to heal himself, and his internal body temperature begins to rise, like it’s readying itself to be cast down to the depths of hell. At one point, Ig even cooks a fish by exhaling on it; an act that suggests that breathing fire is just around the corner.

Alexandre Aja builds a mountain of untapped potential, as he has trouble deciding exactly what kind of film he wants to make. This may be due in part to the fact that the main theme of the book was misinterpreted in the film – Ig doesn’t use the horns temporarily until he is set on the path of sainthood again, but rather, he sins his way to salvation. Once he has the horns, it soon becomes clear that even with his devilish appearance and his horrid reputation, Ig is definitely one of the more morally sound people in town. The horns allow him to retract the truth and reward those who have been genuine, while giving him the strength to punish those who have not. They act as a blessing from below, letting Ig know that someone down there is looking out for him, even if someone above has turned his back.

Towards the end of the film, Aja displays the horns as if they’re something to be ashamed of, when in fact, they act as a link for Ig to a higher power, for without them, he would never learn any new information, never gain closure, and the grief from Merrin’s passing would consume him, possibly leading him to commit acts far worse than any the horns could elicit. Aja’s failure to totally get behind this warped tale of redemption is the reason why he creates a funny, off-colored horror movie, instead of a romantic tale of heroism told from the perspective of a fallen angel.

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Weekend: Jun. 20, 2019, Jun. 23, 2019

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