Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Review of Horns (2014)

There’s a passage in Milan Kundera’s famous and wonderful novel “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” where the notorious philanderer and protagonist “Tomas” reveals that he enjoys sex with the less conventionally attractive women. The women with something distinctive and memorable to mark themselves with are the ones who make more of a lasting impression; the ones who are distinctly themselves. If I remember correctly, the passage involves a woman who is compared to a giraffe with her proportions.

Stretching this quite far, I often find the same applies, for me, to films. There are some films which are all very well and good, masterpieces maybe, but on occasion I am drawn to the rougher films which bear a more personal hallmark, or are just so odd and juxtaposed that they make a stronger impression that something more professional.

And so, we arrive at Alexandre Aja’s “Horns”, a film based on Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son)’s novel, concerning a young man Ig Parrish (Daniel Radcliffe) who, in the wake of the death of his girlfriend from childhood, starts to grow a pair of horns. The small American town he lives in is adamant that he is the guilty, he is desperate to plead his innocence, and we are uncertain for about two-thirds of the film what’s really going on, aside from that it involves Daniel Radcliffe slowly embracing his dark side.

There is an element of narrative trickery here, as extended flashbacks (rather in the style of Stephen King’s novels, it must be said) reveal, slowly, bits and pieces regarding what happened to Ig’s girlfriend. We get to know a few key players, such as Ig’s brother Terry (Joe Anderson), and Lee (Max Minghella), the lawyer defending Ig. James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan play Ig’s parents. We even get to know, kinda, Ig’s girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). And then there’s the two policemen convince of Ig’s guilt, the waitress who wants Ig, Merrin’s father, the bastard Vicar…

This is a bloated film, chock-full of characters who probably could have been edited out. But that’s what I liked about it. And as the various narrative strings are pulled, tweaked and manipulated, the film digs itself into so many holes (and so many plot-holes) that to try and view it as a coherent story is futile. It instead has that quality of an old legend, passed down so often and through so many people that little elements here and there have been skewed, distorted, and come into contradiction with other elements. It’s hokum.

Why am I being so forgiving? A few reasons. Firstly, I’m warming to Daniel Radcliffe, post-Potter, immensely. Following his wonderful turn in “What-If” where he conveyed low-self-esteem and guilt so convincingly, it’s a relief and almost a miracle to see him turn on the “creep” factor. He is, at times, a legitimately chilling presence, and his eyes can truly bore into you. He has an intensity to him which is hard to forget.

The second reason I’m being so forgiving is that the film has such a keen and endearing visual style that, even when the “what” is in doubt, the “where” is right there in front of us. Filmed in Vancouver, Mission and Squamish, the film is painted large with greens from the forests, earthy ochres from the treehouse a number of flashbacks are set in, and generally there is the feeling that considerable work was done in post-production to make the reds more red, the blues deeper, the browns earthier. Uniformly excellent cinematographer Frederick Elmes deserve true commendation for his work here.

More superficially, the film has an excellent soundtrack, and any film that namechecks David Bowie’s “Heroes”, and then finds two opportunities to play it, gets a free pass in my book.

Some, understandably, will be more off-put by the jarring script than I. And while there’s one big-reveal that is quite moving, admittedly because it’s largely played off Daniel Radcliffe’s face, even I must concede that it arrives so unexpectedly and from out of nowhere that for it to have any meaningful emotional resonance is a big ask, even for someone as forgiving as this viewer.

It’s odd. It’s gawky. It jars. It’s bereft of ideas. By golly it makes no sense. But, forgive me, I quite liked that.

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