Netflix Horror Spotlight brings you Wicked Horror‘s top picks for what to watch on Netflix, whether it’s the latest indie darling, a classic masterpiece or a silly slasher that deserves a little bit more attention. In this installment, Joey Keogh argues why Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s brilliant novel Horns is well worth a look, even if it doesn’t get everything right.
Desperate to shake off his Harry Potter shackles once and for all, Daniel Radcliffe took his biggest gamble to date with Horns, Alexandre Aja’s dark, sexy adaptation of Joe Hill’s (son of the legendary Stephen King) hit novel of the same name. As Ig Perrish, Radcliffe is at his least glamorous, least Potter-like to date; drinking, smoking, fighting, and fucking his way around an otherwise quiet coastal town, shaken by a horrible crime and torn apart by lies.
Hill’s novel throws us immediately into the aftermath of Ig’s girlfriend, Merrin’s, horrific murder and rape, slowly piecing together the history of their relationship through well-judged flashback sequences and, later, the terrible insights afforded to Ig through his cursed horns. He is the prime suspect, so everything we see must come through him. In contrast, Aja sets the action primarily in the present, occasionally flashing back to their childhood courtship before filling in the blanks as Ig becomes accustomed to his powers.
Horns isn’t the most faithful adaptation but, more often than not, what works in a novel doesn’t translate to the screen and Aja is nothing if not a master of the visual. His take on Horns is bathed in a deep, illustrative palette of deep reds, blues and greens. The enchanted forest, in which Merrin was murdered, is magically alive, buzzing with activity and danger. Snakes slither past the screen constantly and there are almost psychedelic moments of haze, intrigue and fantasy, scored by a typically hip soundtrack.
However, when it comes to Ig’s new-found powers, the drama is anchored firmly in reality. Strangers confess their true feelings to him with zero fanfare, making the impact greater than if these events were signaled. The strength of Hill’s novel lay in its ability to convince the reader that these horrible, crazy things could actually happen, and that we are all essentially damned. Aja’s film, whatever its failings may be (the central crime itself isn’t particularly well-handled and the big reveal is stuttering, rather than shattering) manages to communicate this idea effectively.
Horns is a difficult role for Radcliffe, certainly as far away as possible from his most famous job to date, but he takes to it with aplomb. His Ig is a tortured soul, unsure of his place in the world without his beloved and trying desperately not to self destruct in spite of being possessed of a power he cannot control. Juno Temple fares less well as Merrin, acting mostly with her lower lip. But this isn’t Merrin’s story, either in the movie or the novel, it’s Ig’s, and the ex-Harry Potter star’s abilities have never been more apparent than here.
Radcliffe has dabbled in horror before, with the hit The Woman In Black, itself an adaptation of a celebrated novel and stage show. He was slightly miscast, as a widower and father, but his desperation to be seen as something other than a boy wizard was apparent. A variety of well-chosen projects have followed, including Kill Your Darlings, in which he took on another difficult role as the gay poet Allen Ginsberg opposite Dane De Haan, and charming indie rom-com What If, in which he more than held his own against the It Girl of the genre, Zoe Kazan.
Horns is further proof, if any were needed, that Radcliffe is more than capable of becoming a key player, maybe even a genre star, in his own right. His Ig is an endearing balance of good and evil, both easy to root for and annoyingly stubborn at times also. Ig’s golden child older brother, Joe Anderson (The Crazies 2010) is an anguished mess, but curiously likeable in spite of his failings. Max Minghella does a fine job as the scheming Lee Torneau, possibly the most fractured and fascinating character in the novel aside from Ig, who here has his arc squashed but still manages to make an impact.
There are issues with Horns. It’s slightly too long, there isn’t as much room for growth as in the novel (understandably so) and certain elements don’t quite work outside of the context of the book. In a lot of ways, one would almost need to have read the novel to get it. And yet, it isn’t an entirely effective adaptation, at the same time. Having said all of that, it’s still hugely enjoyable in its own right and impressively brave, too–kind of like Twilight, but with proper bite and well-written characters. Oh, and a central relationship that actually makes sense.
Catch Horns on Netflix now.