Love, murder and the reality of our darkest desires are what we are given in Horns. This film adaptation of the Joe Hill novel of the same name introduces us to Iggy Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), a young man in love with his childhood sweetheart Merrin (Juno Temple). When he and Merrin have a bad break up and Merrin is found dead the next day, their small town suspects Ig of the murder. As the story evolves, Ig gains horns that terrify him and bring out the most grotesque desires of anyone who encounters them. Soon, Ig learns to use the horns to his advantage in order to help him figure out who solved Merrin’s murder.
While the film does stay true to the overall concepts and themes in the novel, there are some elements that were adapted to better suit the film. I’m a big fan of film adaptations and lending to the medium’s strengths rather than making a carbon copy of a book. What’s the point of making a film adaptation if the creators can’t adapt it to best fit the medium they’re working in?
In Horns, Ig simply hooks up with Glenna (Kelli Garner) rather than her being his girlfriend. Additionally, we learn that Merrin and Ig’s long time friend Lee (Max Minghella) is a public defender rather than an assistant to a local congressman. This simple adaptation comes in handy as Ig is suspected of Merrin’s murder, and Lee works as Ig’s defender. Additionally, Ig’s brother Lee (Joe Anderson) is a musician in the film where as in the novel, he was a muscian. Keeping Terry close to home and giving him the sort of rockstar quality was useful in creating a brother for Ig who seemed to have something to hide. Anderson did a great job at giving an almost nonchalant air about himself in trying to keep out of Ig’s predicament despite his actions causing him more harm than good.
While we don’t see any court scenes (in the film or the book), Lee is a sort of rock for Ig as he tries to figure out what really happened the night Merrin died. While I was initially surprised at the choices of Minghella as Lee and Anderson as Terry, they work wellboth ascetically and in their acting. Minghella and Radcliffee have enough similar features (dark hair, similar build and height) to see where they could easily be blended in Merrin’s mind. While the two almost look more like brothers, giving Terry such a different look from Ig is useful in giving a visual representation of just how different the two boys were. While Ig never seems to have done anything wrong, he never seems to be on good terms with his parents, and yet Terry’s rock-and-roll lifestyle is easily overlooked simply because he is a musician, which his parents favor.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to see that the film was set in Washington (outside Seattle) instead of being set in the novel’s south western New Hampshire, but the scenery makes up for the coastal change. The dense forests and ethereal quality of the mountains, ocean and greenery adds to the mysticism of the film quite nicely.
The acting in Horns is spot on. Radcliffe does a wonderful job at portraying Ig. His (American) accent is excellent and doesn’t seem forced at all. He has proven yet again that he is a versatile and worthwhile actor who can adapt to whatever role is presented to him. Temple is also a great fit for the role of Merrin. She has an organic beauty to her and effortlessly embodies the role of Merrin, giving a sweet yet mysterious quality. Anderson as Terry makes for an easy fit of the rocker persona. Perhaps one of the most important roles cast was that of Lee. Minghella was a wonderful choice for the role as he has a very youthful and trustworthy look to him. He easily fits into Lee’s narrative of a quiet, do-the-right-thing sort of guy.
The visual effects in Horns are fantastic. The scenery, the choice in music and visual effects all lend to the credit of how well a story can be adapted from a novel to film. Perhaps the most important of all the film’s effects is Ig’s horns, which are well done. They are textured and as hard as it is to believe they’re on Ig’s head, they quickly gain an organic quality.
There are scenes that make use of hallucinations and time lapses that are beautifully transitioned. The seamless and beautifully lethargic transitions reminded me a bit of the mind bending quality of the effects used in the 2007 film Across the Universe.
In all, Horns is a great adaptation that balances fantasy, mystery, drama and enough comic relief to keep things grounded in reality. If you’re a fan of Joe Hill or enjoy a dark fantasy, Horns is worth watching.