TIFF 2013: Horns
Ig is a mess. His girlfriend is dead, he’s accused of the murder, he’s being judged by everyone in his small town – and hounded by the media. His only solace is his family, and his lawyer best friend Lee, who seemingly support him unconditionally. That is, until he wakes up having sprouted horns, and a mysterious ability to have others reveal their darkest secrets (whether he wants to hear them or not).
So, he takes his new found abilities on the road, trying to glean from anyone and everyone what really happened the night his love was murdered, and becomes even darker and more demonic as his journey takes him to the ultimate conclusion.
I’m first going to mention that Daniel Radcliffe is an amazing actor. I absolutely love that we’ve been able to see him literally grow up on-screen (to the point of distraction, actually, as one scene offers a “young Ig” and all I could think was “Dan didn’t look anything like that at 13!”), and I’m delighted that he now has the ability to stretch his acting muscles in a variety of roles at this year’s festival. In this particular role, he plays moody, angry, drunk, lovelorn and demonic to a tee.
One of the aspects of this film that I appreciated was that never once was the audience meant to question Ig. For us, his motivation to find the killer, and his obvious love of Marrin was enough for us to completely believe his innocence, which makes even more sad as we learn that the same could not be said for his friends and family. Juno Temple played an etherial Marrin, and even when her innocence and devotion are put into question, her portrayal leaves us calm, and steady in our opinions. The film is actually quite humorous to begin with, but the further Ig travels down his path, losing more and more of himself, the more serious and fantastical the film becomes. While the story takes some unlikely but somehow predictable turns, luckily, it never looses its emotional core.
This is a rare movie where I avoided all advance information about it as much as possible, to the point that I didn’t know it is based on a book until the Q&A. I wanted to go in completely unspoiled and am so very glad that I did. It is not a movie that tries to re-invent storytelling, but it does have twists and turns that I enjoyed following, unspoiled. One part Gothic-horror, one part murder mystery, and one part tragic romance, it is the perfect example of a Vanguard film, with supernatural elements making visual what would otherwise be only metaphor. The twisted comedy as Ig embraces using and abusing his powers are the highlight of the film, leading to some riotously funny scenes.
The drama and heart of Horns come from Ig’s search for meaning and revenge for Marin, and the loss felt by those who loved her. Daniel Radcliffe (boasting a solid American accent) plays snarky emo very well, but also managed to hold up to the deep grief that is consuming and fueling Ig. Ig’s father, confessing under the power of the horns, reveals that he believes that his son murdered Marrin, and hates him for taking her away from them all. “She was what I loved best about you”. Ig-through-Daniel absorbs that great weight with grace, in a beautiful show-don’t-tell moment. What could have been a silly or lighthearted role became a solid acting vehicle Radcliffe. The rest of the cast shone as well – David Morse was heartbreaking in his (strangely uncredited) role as Marrin’s father. My favourite cast member though was Ig’s guilt-ridden brother Terry, played by Joe Anderson.
The film’s second half takes a strange turn into earnestness that could have easily made the increasingly supernatural elements seem silly, but Alexandre layers them evenly enough in the first half that it makes a kind of sense. The VFX were a mix of practical makeup/props and computer effects to enhance them. Alexandre boasted on Radcliffe’s behalf that since leaving the lawyer-built cocoon of the Harry Potter franchise Daniel takes every opportunity to do his own stunts. All of this combined makes Ig’s final demonic transformation that much more awe-inspiring.
It will definitely hold up to a re-watch, and I hope that Daniel is able to secure more dark comedy roles like this in future – they suit him almost as well as the horns did.