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HORNS (review)

Review by Sharon Knolle
Produced by Alexandre Aja, Riza Aziz,
Joey McFarland, Cathy Schulman
Screenplay by Keith Bunin
Based on Horns by Joe Hill
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, 
Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Kelli Garner, 
James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, 
Heather Graham, David Morse

Horns could so easily have gone wrong: A tale of a young man suspected of killing his girlfriend who inexplicably grows horns overnight is instead a darkly irreverent film that was one of my favorites I’ve seen so far this year.

It’s (excuse the pun) funny as hell.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Iggy, a nice enough guy whose childhood sweetheart Merrin (Juno Temple) turns up dead.

The whole town believes he killed her and they’re even more convinced of it when he wakes up one morning sprouting horns.

The horns end up having a strange effect on the townspeople, who start confessing their deepest, darkest desires to him. Armed with this new ability (and a convenient pitchfork), Iggy sets out to find who really killed Merrin.

Radcliffe has diversified his film roles so effectively that we almost forget he was Harry Potter for a decade: Only when dozens of snakes start slithering after Iggy do we think that, of course he can communicate with them: He speaks Parseltongue, after all!

The boy wizard has definitely grown up: In this film, he has sex, smokes and curses profusely and is thoroughly American. And, of course, there are those horns.

The film is based on the book by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) and directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension) It manages to balance the poignant tale of first love and loss with the black humor of locals giving into their basest cravings around Iggy, not an easy feat.

Most films, especially horror films, telegraph their next move far in advance but Horns (at least if you haven’t read the book, which I haven’t), always takes an unexpected turn.

The supporting cast, including Heather Graham as an attention-seeking waitress, David Morse as Marin’s grief-stricken father, and James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan as Iggy’s conflicted parents, are all strong.

I’ll admit I laughed hardest at the scene where Ig urges the band of reporters following him to “beat the hell out of each other,” with the winner getting an exclusive interview with him. They cheerfully oblige.

Visually, it’s a feast, with gorgeous shots of the Pacific Northwest, wild hallucinations and eerily lit sets, like the jazz club where Iggy’s brother Terry (Joe Anderson) plays. Iggy’s exit from a bar that the owner has impulsively torched is particularly apt, as the horned outcast exits surrounded by smoke and fire.

The soundtrack, with songs by EELS, Tindersticks, Fever Ray and Flaming Lips is subtle and well-chosen.

It’s available now on iTunes and opens in theaters on October 31.

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