Harper Watched: Horns

Harper Watched is a recurring feature on the blog where I review movies and sometimes TV series or webshows. Today I'm talking about a horror-fantasy based on a novel by the same name, Horns.

(c/o Radius Two Dimension Films)
I wanted to watch this movie because it stars Daniel Radcliffe, whom I love not only for being a part of the massive chunk of childhood that is Harry Potter, but because he is a great actor, a funny guy, and an unproblematic fave-- he's always standing up for everyone's rights as people whenever he gets the chance, using his privileged status as a white male who dates women to talk about issues of homophobia, sexism, etc. in a productive way. What a classy guy.

I also thought that the premise was really interesting, and I'm the kind of gal who really loves dark stories with backing in any kind of grand mythologies. Judeochristian lore serves as a backbone to this horror fantasy, but it's more about a smaller struggle than a massive apocalyptic one. But before I get into all that, let's have a look at the trailer.

The Plot

Ig Perrish is accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend-since-childhood, Merrin Williams. He is the prime suspect in the case, and his entire small town community turns against him. Even his family has an extremely pessimistic outlook on the situation. No one believes he is innocent except Lee, a childhood friend and currently Ig's lawyer, meanwhile Ig is trying to figure out who really killed Merrin. 

Drunk and angry, he apparently invokes the wrath of God by some combination of pissing on the candles left at the site of Merrin's death and sleeping with another childhood friend, Glenna. The next morning, the horns begin to appear. 

The horns, seemingly a manifestation of the devil in Ig, come with some powers. First, people can see the horns but are for some reason not terribly surprised by them. Second, people around Ig start to reveal the nastiest truths within them. Third, people become highly suggestible around him should he encourage them to do something awful. Fourth, snakes start following him around. And all of this seems to serve as more indication that Ig is as evil as he appears to be, having killed a town darling.

He goes off on a mission to clear his name and to seek vengeance on whoever killed the love of his life. There are a lot of flashbacks through the night of her death, their childhood, and their life together, before she died.

The film is part horror, part murder mystery, part revenge story. It's very dark.

Getting Down to Business

First off, I'd like to put a trigger warning for anyone who is deeply disturbed by images of rape. It really turned my stomach to watch, and I know others would have taken it much much worse than I did.

This is a revenge-horror movie so if scenes of torture, gore, violence, etc. really mess you up, this is your warning that those things are present in this movie. If you're the type that can read it better than you can actually see it, maybe read the book first before you consider watching the movie.

Okay, now that all that goodness is out of the way, let's talk about what I thought of the movie.

In general, I liked it. At times, I wanted to throw up because of how despicable some of the acts in this movie were. That's the point though, and the film does a great job of exploring depravity, jealousy, and other really messed up things that exist within human nature. I liked how it contemplated what made people good or evil, and whether or not knowing that darkness in someone else changed who they were. I liked the darkness in this movie and found it to be pretty artfully done. It's pretty graphic though, so if you're not into that, avoid it or just read the book.

This movie has a really dark sense of humor to it. I've seen some film blogs call it a black comedy, and it's really not a comedy, so don't go into it expecting one. It's honestly a little annoying to me that any movie with a few jokes in it or with a sense of humor is deemed a comedy. That's as idiotic as calling any movie with a romantic subplot a romance. (Imagine, "Ratatouille, a romantic Disney Pixar movie"-- as if.) It is most definitely a satire, however, and it aims to raise a lot of questions about good and evil, and what darkness lies in the depths of every person.

Daniel Radcliffe is totally amazing in this movie. He's very raw, very emotional, and the character and situation give him a wide range of things to work with. There's a lot of genre-bias in the world of film that makes it so performances in horror and even at times fantasy (if it's not mainstream) is deemed lesser due to the unreal nature of the genres, but seriously, Dan totally killed it in this movie. There are so many layer to this character. This is the story, half about solving this girl's murder and seeking vengeance (which is the only kind of justice available), and half about the internal struggle within Ig and everyone around him, made more tangible and visible by the powers of the horns. Dan is raw and honest and horrifying and vulnerable and sarcastic and scared. He matches terrified with terrifying. It's really fantastic to watch.

The special effects are decent but not awesome. The visual direction does a lot of great things for the storytelling, but once CG gets involved, you either buy it or you don't. I'd put it about on par with say, Warm Bodies.

One of the things I really dig about this story is that it's about a really small-scale struggle rather than an apocalyptic one. The religious mythology that plays into this movie is usually done on a really grand scale, and while that's all well and good, I think we need more stories that play on these parables and sacred texts on smaller scales. The end-of-days stories, the angels-vs-demons tales, etc. are usually about all earth-- but I think it speaks truer of most people's experience to deliver stories that play one how these mythologies play into the lives of individuals and those around them. I'm not a religious person, but I usually see more merit in that sort of thing since I would rather see someone struggle through their life and see the religious figures' and values' impact on their own story than have them caught up in some massive divine plot. And that just might be me, speaking as a highly character and plot driven person who has a really hard time getting behind epics. (It's why I never got into Lord of the Rings.) I like the internal struggle and growth and the freedom you get to really explore what's happening to individual characters when their issues aren't dwarfed by some massive divine event or struggle.

Horns does not have a happy ending, but I'll say that it is a satisfying one. The film ends with the mystery of Merrin's death solved, and a promise that Ig and Merrin would be together again in the afterlife. Vengeance has been wrought. Damage has been done. The pieces are left to be picked up, but at least we know where they lay and how they got there. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's probably exactly what some people are looking for.

Harper's Rating: 4/5

Dan Radcliffe is absolutely amazing
Dark sense of humor
Visually gorgeous and terrifying and graphic
Religious mythos in a horror fantasy
Mystery is well-done
Flashbacks tie story together well
Scaled-down Heaven/Hell story makes me really happy
Exploration of the darkness in everyone
True love probably/maybe?
Rape scene-- never easy to watch, this is no exception. I wish they'd just implied it, but I get what they were trying to do: expose the terribleness of it all
Potentially cheesy CG
Gore-- not a lot, but enough to make you squirm
If you watch The Mindy Project, you will have a hard time not seeing Lee as Danny Castellano's gay brother (I know I did)


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