Once in a while, there is a rare moment in the cosmos when the best elements of horror line up in amazing synchronicity and the result is utterly fabulous. French director, and member of the “Splat Pack,” Alexandre Aja; literary horror icon Joe Hill; and accomplished actor Daniel Radcliffe, whose initial foray into films, the “Harry Potter” films were rife with horror tropes like the fabulous Dementors and showcased his horror-chops with the recent Hammer resurgence “The Woman in Black,” which demonstrated horror could be bloodless, family-friendly, and creepy as hell without sacrificing anything bring a brilliant horror pedigree to “Horns.” These three formidable forces converge here and the result is expectedly excellent.

Alexandre Aja, helped usher in the French New Wave of Horror, with his bold, brutal film “High Tension” (Haute Tension) has consistently delivered bloody, raw films like the excellent remake of “The Hills Have Eyes,” the hilariously gory tongue-in-cheek “Piranha 3D,” and the underrated “Mirrors.” “Horns” feels like one of Aja’s films, it is a raw nerve, and while it lacks his signature gore, save for the brutal climax, the tone is one of frustration, a person fighting against the weight of forces aligned against him so effectively.

By now horror fans should be aware that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, but that should only matter in terms of accomplished legacy. Hill, who deliberately choose NOT to use his father’s highly recognizable name, has shown that he is more than highly capable of crafting horrific worlds and stories of his own and “Horns” is definitely a tragic world. “Horns” is one of those stories that seems like a novel idea, but handled by the masterful hands of Hill becomes the ultimate tale of the struggle of good and evil.

Like most people I watched Daniel Radcliffe grow up in the world of Hogwarts and it was in those films that I watched his acting abilities develop. I have also followed his careful acting choices since the world of “Harry Potter” wrapped and was exceptionally impressed with “The Woman in Black.” In “Horns” he plays Ig Perrish, who everyone believes killed his long-time girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). As Ig tries to argue for his innocence he finds few friends willing to stand with him, and plenty of people who will stand against him. His frustrations mount and after a night of drinking, when he rails against Merrin’s faith in God, he awakens to find horns growing out of his forehead. Some around him find this proof of the monster they believe him to be, Ig, however, finds that the horns bestow him with great power over others. Power that just might help him resolve Merrin’s murder.

“Horns” was surprisingly funny, for a film that is based on the sexual assault and murder of a young woman. I’m not just talking about the odd momentary chuckle, I’m talking about stomach-hurting scenes. This isn’t a comedy though, and it never plays light about what happened to Merrin. Instead the comedy comes from the sheer unrestrained darkness in the human condition. We know it is there, we suspect it is there is many around is. We see the madness in the media everyday, it clogs our social media feeds. As Ig moves through his verdant world in the Pacific Northwest those in close proximity to him, and his horns, unburden their souls of their darkest desires often to the most horrifically hilarious results. Make no mistake, for all the humor, this is a dark film.

I’m sure at some point in all our lives we’ve been asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool to know what people are thinking?” We may have had late night conversations over a pint about the pros and cons of this. As I watched seven seasons of “True Blood” and saw Sookie (Anna Paquin) struggle with people’s unfiltered inner monologue I just thought to myself, “No, I would never want to know.” And “Horns” just reaffirms that idea. Horror films are some of my favorite types of films, yet I believe myself to be an optimist. I believe that people, when given the chance will overall, most often choose to do right by their fellow humanity. I believe that if I had insight into their inner thoughts I might doubt this, but I also don’t care about intent anymore, I care about action. I don’t want to know what inner monologue a person has with theirselves,I only want to see the final result. “Horns” effectively showcases the baser elements and does this consistently. The power of Ig’s horns is always in effect, it doesn’t phase in and out like Sookie’s powers in “True Blood.” When Ig walks into a new environment chaos inevitable ensues, especially as the film progresses and he becomes more comfortable with the power of the horns.

“Horns” is a complex dialogue on good and evil, hope and redemption, friendship and betrayal. It is a great murder mystery and commentary on the darker human condition…and its ability to be bright and full of light. The climax is brutal, gory, and its only weakness. While simultaneously making sense I wanted more after a certain dramatic even occurred. The more I reflect on it the more I understand how much it still operates within the logic of the film and what we were given about the horns, but at the same time we were given something exceptionally dramatic and then robbed of anything dramatic on behalf of Ig. That said, the ending of the film IS perfect, I cannot imagine it ending any other way. I have not read the book so I do not know if it does end differenly in the text. I do know that Joe Hill is a producer on the film so was involved in the making of the film.

“Horns” is fun, dark, exciting, and interesting. It never drags, presents a bold original narrative and follows through with a prepared logic. The film adheres to the realities it creates. I felt like these were real people, believable in every way, even when expressing their darkest desires. “Horns” also represents my greatest grievances against the horror film making process. This film did not get a wide release, it never played at any theaters near me that I know of, and with THREE major talents in key roles (director, writer, and lead) it had enough power to open in all major markets. Instead we are given the seventh bullshit sequel to what began as a decent idea and is now a watered down franchise, or the thirtieth iteration of stupid ass vapid teen-ish characters making the dumbest decisions while ultimately the dumbest situation ever presents itself. Original horror films like “Horns” need a wider release and the support of the marketing department. We know that original films can succeed, “Cabin in the Woods” was widely embraced, so while many in the film community may mourn the end of the horror film, I say, “Don’t.” There are so many great horror films out there, they may not be the ones getting wide release, but they are out there. “Horns” is just one example of a superb horror film that managed to get made, caused a lot of great ruckus on the film circuit, and then was unceremoniously disappeared. I’m glad I took a chance and just bought it when I saw it on the shelves at my local store. “Horns” represents the best in horror, great characters struggling against forces unknown and bigger than them, trying to make sense of the worst of all possible situations. It uses gore in the right places and sparingly and is wonderfully icky when present. I can’t recommend “Horns” enough, a huge accomplishment.


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