Sunday, March 22, 2015

Netflix Picks: Horns

Posted By on Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 7:49 AM

click to enlarge SCREENSHOT
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2013's Horns is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill, son of horror magnate Stephen King. It's director Alexandre Aja's first journey outside of sleazy, gore-soaked horror movies, like 2006's The Hills Have Eyes remake. But Horns feels more like a fable than a horror story. Though it's not a home run, it's a solid two hours of nonsense and cheesy romance.

Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) has been raped and murdered under mysterious circumstances. Everyone in town blames her boyfriend, Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe, whose American accent improves throughout the movie), who claims he's innocent, and the only person in town who believes him is Lee Tourneau (Max Minghella), his childhood best friend and public defender.

Already guilty in the court of public opinion, Perrish drinks himself stupid while covertly watching Williams' candlelight vigil. In a rage, he smashes religious icons left at her gravesite and curses the god that let Williams die, before another childhood friend, Glenna Shepherd (Kelli Garner), finds him and takes him home.

When Perrish wakes up, he has horns coming out of his head. Slowly, he learns that people will now tell him all of their darkest secrets and ugliest desires, then forget ever speaking with him: When he visits the ER to try get his horns removed, his doctor (Alex Zahara) suggests they snort oxycontin first, and Father Mould (Jay Brazeau) offers him a noose and a stout tree branch as a means of absolution.

In interspersed flashbacks, we learn about Perrish's childhood and relationships with Williams, Tourneau, his older brother, Terry (Joe Anderson) and others through a series of early teenaged adventures that feel a little too much like deleted scenes from Stand By Me. We see Perrish and Williams’ relationship blossom and grow from the moment they meet. And so things go until the night of the murder, when Perrish tries to propose. Williams dumps him before he has the chance and Perrish drives off, grief-stricken, and blacks out drunk on the beach.

In the present, Perrish uses his truth powers to hunt down the killer. Everyone who sees him falls to their most base and awful instincts, from his envious parents, Lydia and Derrick (Kathleen Quinlan and James Remar), to Williams' grief-stricken father, Dale (David Morse), to the key witness, a waitress who will do anything to get on TV (Heather Graham). The deeper he goes into the people surrounding Williams' death, the more he finds darkness and betrayal. In the end, a love triangle is revealed, and the killer sends Perrish to the bottom of the bay in a burning car.

But that's not the end, unfortunately. The movie's final 20 minutes feel pointless. Perrish's reconciliation with Dale and the revelations that follow are cathartic, yes, and he’s sticking around to get revenge. But the reveal of the killer’s identity is given so much weight, everything after feels tacked on. As for the violent climax, it’s gratuitous and out-of-place – more in line with Aja's previous work than the rest of this movie.

Another problem is Merrin Williams. She's painfully good and virtuous – beyond knowing morse code and one little secret, that's her entire character. Thank goodness for Juno Temple; her performance fleshes Williams out enough to charm, and her chemistry with Radcliffe is good. But the religious backbone of the story also feels unnecessary. Sure, it's neat, but it wavers between overtone and explanation, which makes Perrish's powers confusing.

Whatever the source, Perrish's powers are fun; the power of ugly truth was featured front and center in every trailer for good reason. Graham and Zahara in particular must have been in stitches filming their scenes.

But the fundamental problem comes from a mix of unremarkable dramatic directing and a clear studio drive toward a Twilight cash-in. The finale is drawn out and the story is full of little hiccups, but solid performances by Radcliffe, Temple and Anderson carry it. The love story is a sappy good time. But, most importantly, Perrish's powers are fun and fresh. And as far as fantasy-romance movies go, Horns leaves its competition in the dust. Would it be inappropriate to suggest the viewer pair the movie with a bottle of red wine? I think not.

Congratulations, you're one movie closer to justifying that $8.99 a month.

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