by Charles Nash

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 31, 2014

Daniel Radcliffe stars in 'Horns'
Daniel Radcliffe stars in 'Horns'  

During the opening narration for Alexandre Aja's latest film, "Horns," the film's protagonist, Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) states, "Sometimes, when you go through Hell, the only way out is to walk deeper into the fire."

Ironically, as a film critic sitting through this muddled motion picture, I felt the same way. Only Hell was a metaphor for the movie itself, and the only way to escape the incessant flames of its schizophrenic inferno was to endure them, knowing the pain would be over in time.

After his gorgeous girlfriend, Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) is brutally raped and murdered, Radcliffe's Ig becomes the primary suspect. Reporters and enraged citizens of his New England town swarm outside of his home on a daily basis, questioning, "What does it feel like to get away with murder?" and exclaiming, "You ask God to save your soul," whenever he steps outside.

Following a depressive, drunken one-night stand with a childhood friend, Gienna (Kelli Garner), a grotesque pair of horns painfully begins to sprout from Ig's forehead, and everyone with whom he comes in contact is suddenly acting out in filthy, uncensored ways. Gienna gratuitously shoves six donuts into her mouth, a toddler screams about wanting to set her mother on fire, and Ig's own parents state they don't want him to be their son anymore.

Oh, and he also seems to have the same supernatural ability that Bruce Willis had in "Unbreakable," where if he touches someone, he receives visions of their past sins.

Certain scenes revel in Cronenbergian body-horror, while others feel straight out of a gooey Nicholas Sparks adaptation, and nearly all of the supporting players sound like they're out of some toothless John Waters rip-off.

Filled with rage and self-loathing, Ig eventually learns how to harness these corruptive sensibilities to his advantage in his search to track down the true identity of his lover's killer, and what initially seems like a curse progressively morphs into a twisted kind of blessing.

Based on a novel of the same name by Joe Hill (the son of Stephen King), "Horns," much like its tortured main character, has an identity crisis. Certain scenes revel in Cronenbergian body-horror, while others feel straight out of a gooey Nicholas Sparks adaptation, and nearly all of the supporting players sound as though they're out of some toothless John Waters rip-off. It's as if these three guys incompatibly teamed up to produce some lame-brained, tonally jarring remake of "The Crow."

The equally disjointed plot travels back and forth in time as an attempt to flesh out the characters, but by structuring the story in such a way in that Merrin is only seen through flashbacks, she's reduced to little more than a plot device for her male counterpart. Apart from a few corny montages in which she and Ig snuggle on a picnic blanket and have teenage fuckfests in a treehouse, we never get a solid glimpse as to what their relationship was like before her murder, nullifying any kind of emotional connection they supposedly have with one another. Merrin merely exists to get naked, break Ig's heart, and then die horribly after being sexually assaulted for no purpose other than to provide cheap, manipulative shock value for the audience.

It's a shameful waste of Juno Temple, a remarkably talented actress who, oddly enough, also starred in William Friedkin's brilliant film adaptation of "Killer Joe," where she played another character who deals with sexual abuse. Yet, at its heart, that picture was ultimately about Temple learning to fight back against the men who treated her as an object, which only made watching the exploitative acts of misogyny committed against her character in "Horns" all the more upsetting.

The one strong element of the film that's put to good use is Radcliffe, who provides Ig with a surprising amount of depth, despite the grisly, dim-witted material he's stuck with here. His performance is so refreshingly raw compared to his glory days at Hogwarts, that it's almost, almost enough to make you forget how reprehensible the rest of the picture is.

If there's a single decent line in "Horns" that made me think it could possibly go in an interesting direction, it's during an exchange Ig has with his father, who tells him, "Way more people kill out of love than out of hate." It's a fascinating notion to explore, yet, not only does the film betray this idea during the reveal of its central mystery, but it proves to me that Aja, who's known for his equally grisly gore fests such as "High Tension" and "The Hills Have Eyes" (2006), may kill off his characters out of love -- but it's a nihilistic, bloodthirsty manifestation of love that celebrates violent forms of hate.