Horns (2013) Film Review

Daniel Radcliffe stars in Horns; a film about a young couple in love. Things aren’t quite that simple (or traditional) however and their idyllic small town American landscape hides something much closer to hate.


People have secrets, people bite their tongues, and really that’s a blessing. There are things that we shouldn’t say to each other. If everyone told the truth the world wouldn’t be any happier. Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) finds that he has the unfortunate gift of compelling people to speak their minds and what they have to say isn’t always kind or considerate.

In fact Horns suggests that everyone wears a mask, that people are ugly, weird, and often horrible. But the trick is that we keep those thoughts to ourselves and present a beautified, clean, and considered face to the world. If we don’t, anarchy is the end result with people acting out their worst desires and speaking truth to one another. We all have good and bad inside of ourselves and most of us attempt to only show the good.

Perfection is always marred

Horns (directed by Alendre Aja, The Hills Have Eyes) is the story of a young (perfect) couple, once childhood sweethearts and now on the brink of marriage. They live in a sleepy town, a beautiful place straight out of a contemporary fairy tale about the suburbs and happy nuclear family life. This is the archetypal pretty face, the Eden, and the contrast to the story that the film focuses on.

We’re introduced to Ig after the ‘fall.’ His girlfriend Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) is dead and everyone suspects that he is the killer. The cintematography mirrors the darker undertones of the narrative and the shots are coloured with a grey tint. This is a much scruffier Radcliffe too and he once again attempts to distance himself from his Harry Potter character type. Instead of an earnest and good young man, Radcliffe’s Ig is an antihero, a smoker, and a potential murderer.

The audience is never provided with any sort of clues or evidence regarding Merrin’s death and instead is shown the perspective of those around Ig. His family apparently are on his side but the rest of the town seems to have daggers drawn and are circling poor Ig. Things take a surreal turn though when Ig wakes up to find horns growing from his head. These horns seem to inspire those around him to speak their minds and the truth is rarely kind.

Anarchic horns

Ig’s horns also drive people to act out their worst (or at least most base) desires. Anarchy seems to follow Ig and instead of inspiring good he infects those around him with negative values. The beautiful exterior of the town becomes ever more ironic as people gouge, spit, and attack one another. Effectively Horns becomes the ‘bad’ Bruce Almighty (2003).

However Ig has no memory of hurting his girlfriend so he sets out to discover what happened. His horns grow longer and he slowly begins to embrace their usefulness. Ig becomes a sleuth in much the same was Joseph Gordon Levitt did in Brick (2006) and he navigates a small town microcosm in search of the eponymous truth. Funnily enough there are some similarities to another Levitt movie, 500 Days of Summer (2009), in the retrospective narrative that follows. People aren’t always the same as the memories we have of them and Ig finds out that his girlfriend may have had some secrets too.

Perfection then is an idea that doesn’t stand up to scrutininy. For Ig, his family, his friends, and his late girlfriend aren’t the people that he thought them to be and this propels him into a lonely second act. The film itself relies heavily on colour to generate meaning and Ig becomes ever more devilish in his appearance. It seems that Horns uses visual rhetoric to convey much of what it wants to say.

Humanity is unkind

Daniel Radcliffe’s Ig then is a man who wears his scars for all to see. He is in effect honest and this makes him ugly. He becomes the monster that everyone thinks him to be but whether or not he actually is remains to be seen. The overarching themes in Horns are mirrored in the characters themselves. The perfect girlfriend may not be so perfect, people lie frequently, and the town itself (and the lovely American vistas) only serves to highlight just how cruel, dark, and hidden our real selves can be.

It’s like a cancer and Ig is infected along with everyone else. He has the ability to turn people into monsters and he gleefully does so for much of the film. Ig embraces the darker parts of himself to find the better man that he used to believe that he was. The sad truth however is that beauty and perfection always become marred, they can’t exist alongside the darkness that we all harbor, and this is symbolically shown through the death of Ig’s girlfriend.

Magic realism

Horns then is a film that utilizes metaphor, magic realism, and surreal narrative direction to discuss bigger societal themes. Honesty isn’t always the best policy and Ig discovers just how difficult humanity is to navigate throughout the course of his investigation. Everything is subjective, people aren’t good, but Ig begins to realize that we can be if we choose to be – it’s all on us to be better than who we are.

The film also has a great soundtrack that includes Bowie, the Pixies, and the Vikings theme song (If I Had A Heart, Fever Ray). It’s cult cinema in a similar vein to Kick Ass (2010) and it has an exciting narrative that builds to a strange Dogma-esque finale. There’s a hideous bad trip scene, an intensely metaphorical denouement, and a clever elliptical narrative.

Horns hasn’t been received very well by critics however there’s certainly an interesting film somewhere in amongst the crazy visuals. Daniel Radcliffe does well and its worth noting that the film doesn’t play out quite as expected.

But there’s something to be said for that. The key phrase to keep in mind is magical realism. Like Gregor Samsa before him, Ig awakens from troubled dreams. Instead of transforming into a bug however he finds he has horns growing from his head. Embrace the weirdness, advocate the insanity, and you’ll find a film that’s at times charming, often strange, and actually pretty good.

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