In Horns, Daniel Radcliffe plays murder suspect Ignacious (“Ig”) Perrish. In addition to being suspected by everyone in town of murdering his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), he’s lost his job, is constantly hounded by reporters, and is just generally having a shitty time. To make matters worse, the crime lab that held all the evidence that would have exonerated him just burned down and there’s a rumor that a new witness for the prosecution has come forward. As if that weren’t enough, he wakes up one morning with devil horns sprouting out of his head.
Since nearly everyone in town already thinks Ig’s a murderer, you’d expect them to consider the horns proof of guilt and burn him at the stake or something, but that’s not what happens. Most people notice the horns, but aren’t weirded out by them. People comment on them like they would a new haircut. Instead of treating Ig like a monster, people start telling him their deepest, darkest secrets, and in some cases acting on impulses they’ve kept buried for a long time. Ig also finds that he can make some people do things just by giving them commands. He decides to use his newfound powers to find Merrin’s killer.
At first Ig takes everything in stride despite the fact that many of his closest friends and family members have, under the influence of the horns, admitted that they think he’s a murderer or a disappointment or just an all around terrible human being. When his almost Dude-like ability to abide doesn’t get him anywhere towards solving the murder, Ig embraces the dark side. He gets himself a pitchfork, makes friends with the snakes that have been following him around for most of the movie, and starts using his abilities more aggressively. It kind of works out for him, but calling it a happy ending is definitely stretch.
Horns takes a few scenes to establish everything and get moving, but once Ig sprouts the horns things get hilarious fast when Ig starts interacting with small-town weirdos saying and doing things without any filters. This part of the movie had sort of a Drowning Mona vibe: really funny, but kind of dark and horrible and wrong if you actually think about it. The modern-day scenes are broken up by flashback sequences that cover the time from Ig and Merrin’s first meeting as children up until the murder. These scenes aren’t as funny or dark, but have a Stand By Me feel that works to keep things from getting too wacky. Once Ig embraces his inner devil, the tone of the movie does a 180. There’s still some humor, but it’s mostly a revenge story from there on out. This kind of tone shift would probably make a lot of movies seem schizophrenic, but here it seems completely natural.
I don’t really have any complaints about Horns. I expected that the biggest hurdle would be not thinking of Radcliffe as Harry Potter, but except for some unavoidable Parseltongue thoughts when he started befriending snakes, that wasn’t really a problem. The fact that Radcliffe can pull off a competent American accent probably helped a lot. The lack of explanation for Ig’s magical powers is the sort of thing that would have annoyed me in a lot of movies, but in this case I was fine with it, probably because the film doesn’t even try to explain the weird stuff. The movies that usually piss me off are the ones that try to pretend to have a coherent mythology/cosmology when it’s abundantly clear that they don’t. In the world of Horns, some days you just wake up with horns that give you magical powers that help you solve your girlfriend’s brutal murder. If you’re ok with that, you’ll probably enjoy this movie.