dir: Alexandre Aja, 2014
*Disclaimer: I didn’t read the book this film is based on. Any opinions at the time of writing are based solely on the film.*
Horns has some interesting elements, but collectively the results are several bright moments and a multitude of issues.
At its heart, Horns is a dark fantasy drama and murder mystery. No matter its detours, those two things are the strongest narrative themes. I say this because Horns has many detours, which contribute to its two hour run time. While I love a good long film, Horns seemed to drag on at points as it struggled to have as much fun as possible with the supernatural elements of the plot. Like a verbose professor, it works continuously to show the mechanics of Ig’s powers, only to look up from its furious chalk drawings as it remembers that at some point we need to find who killed Merrin. This makes for a lot of fodder being thrown at you throughout the film.
When you couple this with the troubling virgin/whore approach to femininity, Horns works itself into unnecessary corners, burdening its karma along the way.
It pained me to see the simplistic creation of Ig’s murdered love interest, Merrin. This is because, I at least, expected so much more. In light of that, Merrin’s characterization as the perfect woman (“pure,” not like “other girls,” self-sacrificing) is tired at best. And that’s just on her own. Horns makes the unfortunate mistake of pitting Merrin’s merits against Glenna. Another childhood friend, Glenna is shamed as the town whore who feels trapped in Seattle by her unrequited love for Ig.
While the film (lazily) tries to explain the whys of Glenna’s brokenness, it also fails to do anything with it. She literally disappears with little more than a sigh halfway through the film. After which, the film becomes a world of men who are harming or helping each other, or chasing the ideal of femininity that Merrin represents.
This is increasingly problematic because the film tries ever so hard to make Merrin above reproach. Much of this adds to the subtext of Ig’s transformations. But it also serves to add more punch to the third act’s major reveal of the killer’s identity. The sad thing here is that it denies Merrin any true complexity, while also painting her as a fairly passive and sacrificial lamb for Ig’s own literal and metaphorical transformations (and of the other men in her life, by proxy).
This is obviously my biggest gripe with the film. But, there are good things about it too. It almost goes without saying that the film is fraught with biblical notions and imagery, for better or worse. In light of this, Horns does well to create its own eden out of the misty greenery of Seattle. In turn, the film has a lot of fun with Ig’s ability to bring out the worst in people. It’s both a fun comedic device and an interesting way to empower his investigations into Merrin’s death. In fact, the darker sides of the film often accumulate when his powers reveal some deep truth from those closest to him. This is a repeated technique that, when summed up, shows how sad and broken many people in this small town are.
Ultimately, Horns is at its best when it’s working the dark comedy angle. The irony of this is that its central murder mystery and drama themes are often broken by its bumbling approaches to female characterization. In addition, the film often meanders, not sure as to how it wants to tell its story. Sadly, Horns has an interesting premise but leaves the viewer wanting more by its end.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope