Snakes and a love story told in reverse: a review of the movie Horns

Now, I usually hate movies that are based on books.  What can I say, I am a purist?  I nit pick EVERYTHING when watching a movie based on a book, and most don’t measure up.  Books are simply better most of the time, and most movies fail to capture the magic of the books and don’t even come close, for the most part.  Exceptions would be The Hunger Games, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me and The Green Mile.

But now we can add another movie to the exception list: Horns.  I watched it last night, and I was extremely impressed.  Not only is the adaptation very good, the movie is just a really good movie.  Those seem to be few and far between lately.  There is a reason why Hollywood keeps remaking movies:  the idea pool has gotten pretty shallow as of late and not much decent material to draw on.  However, Horns is on my top list of movies released this year, and may even end up being one of my favorite thriller movies ever.

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Horns is based on a book written by Joe Hill of the same name.  As we all know, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King.  He has published three full length novels:  Heart Shaped Box, Horns and N0S4A2.  He has also co-authored some work with his famous dad and has published a collection of short stories titled Twentieth Century Ghosts.  The parallels between Hill and King are inevitable and it is natural to draw comparisons.  After all, he is the son of perhaps the most recognized and widely read writer on this planet.  But make no mistake about it:  Joe Hill is Joe Hill and Stephen King is Stephen King.  I personally would not want it any other way.  Both writers have their own merits and should be enjoyed on their own merits as well.  Hill has distinguished himself from his famous father, and Horns is proof of that.

To summarize:  Horns centers around main character Ignacio M. Perrish aka Ig or Iggy (the initials spell out IMP…we see what you did there, Mr. Hill).  One morning, Ig wakes up to discover that he has grown a pair of horns on his head.  And somehow, most people do not find this a problem.  In fact, people open to Ig and confess their deepest, darkest and sometimes nastiest secrets to him.  This is helpful to Ig, as his girlfriend was murdered a year ago and Ig is the main suspect.  Despite the lack of any real evidence, the townspeople and even those closest to Ig have deemed him the killer and tried and hung him.  The love story between Ig and his now deceased girlfriend Merrin is told in reverse, and Ig uses his newfound powers to find the real killer and seek revenge on those who have wronged him.

In the movie, Ig Perrish is played by Daniel Radcliffe (cue the Harry Potter-Horns memes right about here).  This was a smart casting choice, as Radcliffe is able to sympathetically play the character and give him the nuances needed.  However, Radcliffe never makes Ig pitiful at all.  Iggy is seen as a man who has undergone extreme hardship in losing Merrin, who was probably the best part about him.  Ig is seen as a “monster” but Radcliffe never loses the humanity in the character, and we are left rooting for him the entire way.

Juno Temple and Joe Anderson play Merrin Williams (the love of Ig’s life) and Terry Perrish (Ig’s shady, drug addled brother) respectively.  We mainly see both of these characters through Ig’s eyes, and both actors do an admirable job, especially Juno Tempo.  We get to know Merrin through Ig’s flashbacks, and Juno Temple is able to bring a kind of sweet innocence to Merrin, but never makes her into a martyr.  Joe Anderson does a wonderful job with Terry Parrish, portraying him to be the chump that he is, but still bringing a bit of sympathy to the character.  All of the actors seemed to have a kind of chemistry with each other, bringing believability to the dynamic.

What impressed me the most about this movie was how much of the book was kept intact.  There were some minor changes, such as the change in location.  The movie takes place in the Seattle area; the book takes place in New Hampshire.  However, the cinematography was gorgeous.  The camera work allowed for many shots of forest and bodies of water, which really added to the film.  The overcast skies and appropriately placed rain showers also added to the film.  The film also did a good job of keeping the dark humor that was so prevalent in the book.  When Ig discovers his newfound, unwanted powers, mayhem ensues.  Ig attempts to seek help at the doctor’s office and has the misfortune of running into a woman and her bratty daughter.  The woman confesses her infidelity and true feelings about her bratty child to Ig.  The bratty daughter describes, in gleeful detail, how she is plotting her mother’s demise.  The doctor and the nurse confess their true feelings for each other to Ig and start having sex right there in the doctor’s office.  The reporters hounding Ig confess that they really need a breaking story and will stop at nothing to get it.  Then the reporters end up fighting each other in brawl that resembles a WWE Royal Rumble match.  These scenes are disturbing, but the film is able to capture the dark humor in them, and that comes across very well.

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However, I did have a couple of minor problems with this movie.  The character of Glenna, played by Kelli Garner, was simply flat.  I think this is more to blame on the writers as opposed to the actress.  Glenna had much more depth in the book, and the film was just not able to capture this.  The film also failed to capture the true maliciousness of Lee Tourneau, played by Max Minghella.  This is likely because films do not spend much time delving into back stories like books do.  The book contained plenty of history between Ig and Lee, so we see how their relationship develops over the years and how Lee manipulates Ig.  The film simply did not show this, and Minghella was unable to showcase his character’s true capacity for evil.  However, the overall acting job of the cast was able to cover these flaws, and Horns still came across as a movie with supreme acting.

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Often, movies based on books are mediocre on a good day, and complete failures on a bad day.  But with right director, producer and actors, movies can be wonderful adaptations of books, literally bringing characters and locations previously only imagined to life on the big screen.  Horns definitely falls in this category, and is a superb adaptation of Joe Hill’s terrifying, haunting novel.

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4 thoughts on “Snakes and a love story told in reverse: a review of the movie Horns

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