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Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Heather Graham

Total Film

December 2014

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A post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe continues to make un-safe choices with Alexandre Aja’s (Switchblade Romance) supernatural horror, donning the titular devilish appendages for the role of scruffy bad boy Ig Perrish (Shia LaBeouf was originally linked to the part before moving on).

Ig’s small town rushes to judge him when his angelic girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) is brutally murdered. In the wake of her death those grotesque add-ons sprout from his skull. Ig’s horns turn out to be a blessing as well as a curse, infused with the power to make townsfolk spill their deepest, darkest secrets and desires to him. A handy trick when you’re trying to prove your innocence.

Adapted from Joe Hill’s (son of Stephen King) novel, Horns is both a romantic fable of first love and a macabre revenge chiller. It’s thick with an unsettling, peculiar atmosphere and swimming in religious iconography. It’s also director Aja’s most ambitious work yet: he mashes up genres with gleeful relish, teasing out the cleverness of Hill’s source material and painting a precise picture of the claustrophobic Pacific Northwest world Ig inhabits, heightened by creepy fairytale tableaux like the ‘enchanted’ forest where Merrin’s body ends up artfully displayed.

The first half plays like a subversive black comedy before Horns fully commits to the dark side. (Hill brands the story a “tragicomic horridy”). Aja pays sly homage to Radcliffe’s past – Ig can commune with snakes – but Harry Potter is definitely all grown-up here: Radcliffe and Temple’s sex scene, soundtracked by David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, is saucy stuff.

There’s chemistry between the Brit pair – but after flashbacks reveal more of their shared backstory the movie does lose some of its vital mystery. No matter: the support cast help keep sparks flying, including Joe Anderson as Ig’s druggy brother, Max Minghella as his childhood best friend and James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan as his parents, whose confessions to their son spawn one of Horns ’ best scenes.

As Ig’s horns grow, the devil goes to work and the mood becomes jittery and, ultimately, grisly. Radcliffe ends up going to all kinds of dark places, and with impressive conviction. For the risk-loving star, this is merely the latest step on his long march away from Hogwarts; for Aja, it’s a largely successful attempt to move away from the more blood-drenched genre work he’s known for – it certainly bites deeper than Piranha 3D...
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