The premise sounds really cool: a guy tries to convince the townspeople that he didn’t kill his girlfriend while simultaneously sprouting horns and turning into the Devil. His new horns also make him abnormally persuasive and give him the power to make people confess their darkest secrets – a fun trick until the emotional trauma sets in. Horns has the potential to be darkly humorous, puzzling, and justifiably evil but, to burst your bubble, it oozes melodrama and obvious symbolism, and is one lengthy parade of dramatic weirdos.
Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) turns into the Devil – this part is neat. Although I wish, from an aesthetic point of view, that his horns kept on growing until they were a genuine public health and safety concern. His devilish powers also influence the people around him to confess like they’ve never confessed before. The first admission (a girl stuffing her face with doughnuts because she longs to be fat) is awkwardly hilarious. Every confession after that (save perhaps the two cops who can’t focus on the arrest) is like acting-vomit. The characters flip a switch and go from normal to inner-demon in a blink. The result looks something like a starving middle-aged actor putting everything he’s got into an audition for High School Musical: The XXX Edition. “Ooohhh buuuuurn” I know, I know, but these repeated confessions, driven by an overflow of repressed emotions, feel as embarrassing for us as they must have been for everyone on set.
The cast’s performance also leaves something to be desired. Radcliffe pulls off a passable American accent but his delivery is forced, as if every pleasant “fuck you” is another attempt to shove this leper colony of a plot into our hesitant embrace (“ohh buuurn”). The supporting cast overact because of their characters’ burning desires to reveal all, but I think Radcliffe overacts because Horns is so ridiculous and fanciful that any normal acting job would come off as stale. Ig is frustrated about his situation, and rightly so, but his whole performance feels like a hyper-stressed monotone.
We sit through the random confessions, learn Ig has no real friends, and gradually figure out who the killer is. Gradually… So very gradually. Horns uses flashbacks to bring the girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple), back to life but, as with everything else in the film, the flashbacks are overused. They drag on until we forget there’s a “present-day” plot to return to, which is one firm sign that a movie is too long.
The biggest disappointment for me came at the end (avert ye eyes for this imminent spoiler), when Ig goes full Diablo, complete with magma-veins. The look is, I will say, nicely designed. He really does look like the devil incarnate. But what really gets me is that moment when Ig stands over the killer, ready to deliver the final blow, and we’re waiting for the inevitable, epic one-liner, praying to the movie-gods above that this horned, pitchfork-holding Devil says, “See you in Hell”… and nothing happens. Not one word is spoken. Not even “Burn” or “Die”. Nothing. Just anti-climactic silence.
Horns is almost too ridiculous to hate. It makes one of those excellent bad movies you pull out for a watch-a-bad-movie-night. Halfway through I’d decided on giving it a 4, but I have to settle the final score at 3. I appreciate all the drug-induced hallucinations that must have gone into its planning (one more… “buuurn”) and the pretty forest shots, but Horns is simply not good-movie material.