Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #566
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 6, 2013 (TIFF)
Sub-Genre: Dark Fantasy
Country of Origin: United States, Canada
Box Office: $3,300,000
Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: Alexandre Aja
Producers: Alexandre Aja, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Cathy Schulman, Joe Hill
Screenplay: Keith Bunin
Based on a novel by Joe Hill
Special Effects: Maiko ‘Mo’ Gomyo
Visual Effects: Matt Jacobs, Chris Morley, Derek Wentworth
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
Score: Robin Coudert
Studios: Red Granite Pictures, Mandalay Pictures
Distributors: Dimension Films, RADiUS-TWC
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, David Morse, Sabrina Carpenter, Michael Adamthwaite, Nels Lennarson, Don Thompson, Jay Brazeau, Alex Zahara, Kendra Anderson
Suggested Audio Candy
 Marilyn Manson “Personal Jesus”
 David Bowie “Heroes”
 Robert Coudert “Horns”
Every last one of us has a devil inside tucked away. Granted, we may keep it at bay for the most part and live good and wholesome lives, but we all possess demons and they manifest in their own way dependent on host. You see, there’s a fine line between good and evil and it stands to reason that sometimes said line will become blurred. Those who openly practice religion will be only too aware of him downstairs as you can’t have a heaven without its southern counter-point and it all comes down to personal choice over which of the two paths to take. One promises riches unbounded and eternal life in the closest to nirvana we’re ever likely to see whereas, the other, proposes excruciating pain and suffering ad infinitum. Sounds like a no-brainer right?
Alexandre Aja’s Horns marks something of a departure for the Frenchman as those expecting the customary bloodbath will be left feeling decidedly undernourished come its conclusion. Loosely based on Joe Hill’s novel of the same name, it is a dark fantasy with precious little requisite to sicken and, instead, reveals a different side to his game entirely. Regrettably, this bold move didn’t translate to box office receipts as the film’s arrival was eerily muted and, while the budget is unknown, I would imagine it is still in the process of recouping its initial outlay. Even the attendance of two of cinema’s rising stars, Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple, couldn’t generate significant interest and it was cast aside faster than a binge-drinking seraph.
“People say you should always do the right thing, but sometimes there is no right thing, and then… well then you just have to pick the sin you can live with.”
Horns tells the story of Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Radcliffe), who is the prime suspect when his soul mate Merrin (Temple) is murdered. Despite passionate insistence that he is not culpable, the entire community of his small town seem to have already made their minds up, while his family’s declaration that they will love him, regardless of what he has done comes as scant consolation. Indeed, only his childhood friend and acting attorney Lee (Max Minghella) seems to believe his story and Ig is starting to consign himself to his imminent judgement. The only person who appears to be sharing his torment is Merrin’s heartbroken father Dale (David Morse) but he is in absolutely no doubt that Ig is responsible and brimming with hatred. The bottle is ideal for times like these and, with hope all but vanquished, and his one true love pushing up daisies, he hits it unapologetically.
“For whatever reason in this crazy fucked up world, I was being punished. When they looked at me, they saw a devil – and maybe I did too – and now I had to look the part.”
Imagine his despondency then when he awakens to find a pair of rather hard to disguise devil horns sprouting from his temples. Overnight acne is one thing but these aren’t the kind of fresh arrivals one can squeeze in the bathroom mirror and, even more disparagingly, they appear to be in the process of becoming more pronounced and, with a baseball cap now out of the question, Ig adds insult to his fast-growing list of emotional injuries. What hope does he stand of being acquitted when his own body seems to be convinced he’s a wrong ‘un and reminds him of such in absolutely no uncertain terms? Aside from providing him with a bright but decidedly brief future dodging Matador, the horns seem to serve no real purpose other than to make him stick out even more like a sore thumb and Ig is feeling pretty damn hard done by.
“Why don’t you let me suck your cock in the men’s room. I would really like that, and I bet it’d make you feel better.”
That said, while somewhat unsightly, his new brow wings aren’t without their curious benefits, one of which being that those he comes in contact with now have a tendency to share with him their innermost secrets and dark desires. Considering the fact that he is determined to get to the bottom of what scum really butchered his beloved Merrin, the truth serum they provide may well come in handy. While Ig is far from ready to punch his fist and proclaim himself a lucky little devil, he decides to focus on the positive and continues to play detective. However, something is eating him up inside, even more than the fact that his girlfriend is worm meal and it involves an uncomfortable revelation she made on the very night of her death.
“She went to church every fucking Sunday, she wore a cross around her neck, and did it make ANY difference? No. God turned a blind eye and let her die out here alone and afraid!”
The two had been inseparable right through school and their love was unlike any other in existence. Or so he believed. Now he is not so sure and rejection seems the most bitter pill to swallow. Something doesn’t sit right and Ig isn’t ready to add jilted lover to teenage widow quite yet so he keeps the faith single-mindedly and hopes to uncover some hidden clue that their souls are destined to fly together once he passes. Despite her cold bones, Temple ghosts through our senses many times during Ig’s search for closure and absolution and, after watching her fire up her pistons for William Friedkin’s magnificent Killer Joe, again she shows that there are few who possess her ethereal beauty and childlike chastity. She dances quite beautifully and we are too busy becoming lost in her wide eyes to so much as contemplate keeping up with her.
“In the end, I embraced the horns. Like an angel who fell to earth, I became a devil one last time, but revenge is all consuming, and my time has come to return to you so we can be together again. I mean, if this isn’t paradise, I don’t know what is.”
It takes two remember and Radcliffe does exceedingly well in a role far more multifaceted than some pimple-nosed pube with a wand and a broomstick. Moreover, it shows his willingness to spread his own wings and I’m pretty sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. Since the long-running Harry Potter series wound down, he has actually been striving to reveal himself as outcast and take challenging roles to assist in this changeover, much like Elijah Wood before him as he grew tired of waxing his oversized feet twice daily. Ironically Aja was involved with the project that provided him his clearest-cut opportunity to shed his stubborn image, Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, and Horns shows that Radcliffe is wisely taking his lead. He wears those horns like he knows what they truly mean and this helps him to sell the tormented character of Ig, and his many grey areas, effortlessly. Kudos Daniel. Truly. Really. Clearly. And most sincerely. You earn ’em.
If there is a downside to Aja’s Horns then a slightly uneven tone is about all I can muster. It hints at what it will become and, at times, almost feels like Aja is making it up on the fly. However, he is essentially elucidating another man’s words and I believe this is fully intentional. There’s a mystery to this film which, fused with the emotional connection that is evidently and firmly in place, all we can do is to follow the trail of ashes. Where that leads is anybody’s guess but, I will say this, if it’s an enchanting jaunt, nay junket, through the rose petals, then it upholds this captivation right through to the end of the trail. This is encapsulated by Frederick Elmes whose photography lights up our retinas with flames whose dance is as beguiling as it is inexorable. Robin Coudert scores our piece from his soul cage, editing guru Baxter cuts and pastes like the interior decorator of science that he is, and Keith Bunin’s interpretation of Hill’s prose floats fluently from the screen.
Horns is the kind of film that matures well with age. In a sense, it’s almost timeless, and I’m assured that quality will serve it well in years to come. It’s Ig’s ever-consuming flame-grilled identity that fascinates most as he knows that vengeance only feeds its cause and this battle is never less than magnanimous. This is the kind of movie where the Crimson Quill’s Judgement is subject to change once secondary viewing has been facilitated. However, for now, I’m just happy to carry it around with me like a precious cross necklace. Perhaps the largest compliment I can pay Aja is that it reveals more than ever that son of the illustrious Stephen King, Hill, really is a chip off the old block and that message well and truly comes across.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: While it is true that Aja is taking a well-earned day off from splintering bones left and right, he still finds time to leave his trademark deep red palm print on each willow we pass. There are moments of ferocious bloodletting but he presents them almost by way of strobe. Hit slow play and you can add another five minutes to Horns’ running time and that does include second and third inspection. As for Temple’s delectable peach-permeated pelt, you’ll have to ask Killer Joe for a Polaroid as she provides only glimpses of paradise. Again, slow play is your soul mate here as you can embrace every inch as it coasts past your privileged peepers enticingly.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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