***** SPOILER ALERT *****
This review will be discussing plot points which may be considered spoilers. Consider yourselves warned.
When I first realized that a movie based on a novel by Joe Hill was coming to theaters October 31, my interest was piqued. I hadn’t read Horns, but I have read some of his other stuff, including Locke & Key, which is gothic mystery/fantasy graphic novel series set in New England. Sadly, the big screen interpretation of his book, while visually stunning, was disappointing.
I appreciate that geeky movies are getting more beautiful recently. Bigger audiences for comic book, fantasy, and sci-fi movies (especially those based on previously published works) mean bigger budgets; and bigger budgets mean better visuals and effects. Horns is set in Washington State, and the backgrounds varied from stark, pine covered mountains against gray skies, to knobby cypress in a swamp flooded with soft, buttery sunlight. Hill’s metaphors are never subtle, and the scenery played an obvious role in the story. The colors of everything are bright against a mostly gray background. Merrin Williams’s (Juno Temple) red hair and Ig’s orange car stand out most sharply.
The effects were excellent as well. Ig Perrish’s (Daniel Radcliffe) horns were the focus of his story, and there were plenty of close-up camera shots of them. They held up to intense staring. The hefty amounts of gore at the end of the movie and Ig’s final transformation were also just a little too realistic.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie did not hold up to the promise of the makeup and effects. The timeline from Hill’s original work, in which the events of the book take place a year after Merrin’s murder, seems to have been moved up, apparently taking place a few days or perhaps weeks after the murder. Radcliffe’s voiceover narrative in the beginning is so rushed that I had a hard time hearing what he was saying. My first thought was that he hadn’t yet outgrown Harry Potter, a thought that stuck with me throughout his performance. Merrin’s character was boring, and I saw nothing in her that would have inspired the type of love that the entire town seemed to feel for her. The best acting of the movie, in my opinion, was done by Ig’s family, especially his junkie, jazz musician brother Terry (Joe Anderson). Stellar performances, relatively at least, also came from the actors playing the younger versions of the main characters.
The symbolism of the movie is overstated as much as possible. Ig’s horns are the visual representation that he has become a demon who can summon the worst parts of a person’s character and persuade everyone in his vicinity to confess their deepest sins and even to act on their ugliest impulses. The horns don’t initially work on his friend Lee Tourneau (Max Minghella), which Ig assumes is because Lee is the only truly good person of Ig’s acquaintance, but later is revealed to be because he is wearing Merrin’s cross necklace. This is one of several plot twists that occur at different points during the movie, rather than the standard climactic reveal of twists before the story rushes to conclusion.
There is a lot of explicit sex (including rape) and gore in this movie—nearly all of it in the last twenty minutes. I almost got the impression that the creators thought, “We’re this far in and we’ve only used a little bit of profanity so far. Let’s really earn this R rating.” This is not usually helpful for telling a story, and feels somewhat gratuitous and certainly excessive.
When adapting a book for movie or television, a balance must be struck between the literal interpretation of the book’s events and plotline, and a completely new story using the original author’s characters. This movie erred too much on the side of literal interpretation. This is an unusual complaint to have to make, but it is true. Even though I had not read the book, I could feel the breaks in chapters as I watched the movie.
The final plot twist was perhaps the least exciting part of the movie, and this is something that is a weakness with the story itself. Merrin’s decision to break up with Ig and flee to California simply because she had cancer and didn’t want him to have to see her suffer was a cop out. There were several more interesting ways the story could have concluded. She could have actually cheated on him with his best friend, in the end proving that there is no such thing as a pure person, or it could have turned out that no one killed her at all–that Ig was only finding out parts of the story from the witnesses and jumping to conclusions, and that she had actually just slipped and fallen in the rain. Almost any other ending would have been less trite and more satisfying.
All in all, this movie was a real disappointment. I would have loved to see a good adaptation of Joe Hill’s genius on screen, but perhaps that may happen in the future.
2/5 Death Stars