Friday, 31 October 2014

Horns (2013)


[Now for a bust of a movie that takes quite a few liberties with the book on which it is based, having seemingly been held back for a Halloween release.

The bust is another example that demonstrates how some deliberately jumbled time-lines must be unravelled, in order to effectively reveal the plot.]

Horns (2013) is an American-Canadian darkly comic supernatural mystery film directed by Alexandre Aja, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, and Juno Temple.

In the end, radio station disk jockey, Daniel Radcliffe, uses supernatural powers to uncover and exact revenge upon his childhood friend, Max Minghella, as the real murderer of his true love since they were children, Juno Temple, a crime for which he himself had almost unanimously been held responsible, by his local community.

When a young Radcliffe returns a broken crucifix necklace dropped by a young Temple, that she had been using to attract his attention in church, after first getting a young Minghella, to mend it for him, in exchange for a cherry-bomb explosive, he won in a dare, that almost lead to his drowning, had Minghella not dived in to save him, the pair become an inseparable couple.

As Radcliffe and Temple grow up and ever more in love, neither suspects that Minghella secretly carries a torch for Temple, wishing he had never saved Radcliffe, only for him to win her heart instead of him.

However, when a grown up Temple discovers that she has developed the same incurable hereditary cancer that killed her mother, she hides the fact from Radcliffe, sure he is about to propose marriage, in order to spare him the pain she saw her mother's death cause her father.

Pretending she has been unfaithful, Temple uses the news that she intends to move away as an excuse to break up with him, on the very night Radcliffe intends to present her with a ring, prompting a heated exchange in the diner he had chosen for the deed.

Angry and confused, Radcliffe drives off, alone, into the night, passing his elder brother, Joe Anderson, who had hoped to join the engagement celebrations.

Instead, Anderson offers to drive the distraught Temple home, only for her to insist she be let out near to an abandoned tree-house, she and Radcliffe had adopted as their special place, as children.

Unhappy that Temple is heading into the woods alone, at night, and in the rain, Anderson promises to wait for her by the side of the road, setting into the booze he had brought with him.

Minghella, who was also expecting to join the party, misinterpreting the argument he witnesses from the diner car park, having seen Temple leave with Anderson, catches up with his parked car and, discovering Anderson passed out, sets off after Temple, convinced she has broken up with Radcliffe, at long last, in order to be with him.

But when Temple rebuffs his advances, explaining that Radcliffe is the only person she loves or will ever love, Minghella, in a fit of jealous rage, crushes her skull with a large stone, that he then plants on the unconscious Anderson.

Panicking when he discovers Temple's dead body, the next morning, at the foot of the tree-house, Anderson secretly disposes of the bloody evidence he wakes up with, so that when Radcliffe is found by police not long after, asleep in his car, parked in a lonely spot, his hungover and confused references to the fight he feels responsible for with Temple the previous night are mistaken for a confession of murder.

Unaware of Minghella's guilt, but certain of his own innocence, Radcliffe is adamant that his friend, now the town's public defender, should represent him, despite his wealthy parents' offer to fund his legal defence.

Constantly hounded by an accusing media and shunned by an angry citizenry, Radcliffe seeks drunken solace in the pair's adopted tree-house, overhearing the angry accusations of Temple's father, during a prayer session lead by the local priest, at an impromptu shrine, set up near to the scene of the crime.

Enraged that God should have allowed someone as righteous as Temple to meet such a brutal end, Radcliffe, witnessed by another childhood friend, who secretly carries a torch for him, desecrates the shrine, after he thinks all the mourners have left.

Determined to offer the inebriated Radcliffe comfort of a more intimate kind, the friend takes him home with her.

Waking up the next morning in her bed, Radcliffe is alarmed to discover that overnight his forehead has sprouted a pair of painful, gnarly horns, that seem to have a weird effect on those around him, rendering them highly suggestible, unable to resist revealing their deepest, darkest secrets and desires, while being strangely unconcerned by Radcliffe's extraordinary appearance.

Initially disturbed by the affects the horns are having, Radcliffe soon realises their potential for uncovering the truth behind Temple's murder.

His first significant discovery is that the prosecution's mystery witness is a vain, publicity seeking waitress from the diner who, as it turns out, is providing false evidence against Radcliffe in the hope that it will make her a television celebrity and lead to fame and fortune.

His brother's role in events is revealed by chance when Radcliffe realises that if he touches someone's bare skin, he instantly experiences any recent event that person might have been trying to withhold from him.

Finding he can command snakes, that suddenly seem drawn to him, Radcliffe uses this and his power of persuasion to punish both the waitress and Anderson, whose unwillingness to come forward with what he knew, Radcliffe sees as a betrayal.

But unable to divine events beyond his brother's drunken stupor, Minghella's guilt is only finally revealed, when Radcliffe removes what he recognises to be Temple's crucifix necklace from around Minghella's neck, that had been protecting him from the effect of the horns.

Furious at his friend's ultimate treachery, and with Minghella's murderous jealously fully enabled by the horns, the pair engage in a vicious fight, that leaves Radcliffe incapacitated, allowing Minghella to bundle him into his car, which he douses with gasoline and sets alight, before Radcliffe somehow manages to start up the engine and drive off the quayside, to quench the flames.

Then, while Minghella releases a statement claiming that Radcliffe, consumed with remorse, confessed his guilt before taking his own life, Radcliffe, hauling his horribly burned body from the river, seeks answers from Temple's father, who has a key for him, that leads to a letter in which Temple explains her real reason for forcing the break up.

The full protective nature of her necklace, originally Temple's late mother's, becoming apparent when her father insists Radcliffe wear it, and it magically restores him to hornless good health, Radcliffe, after making peace with his brother, who is recovering in hospital from the drugs binge he compelled Anderson to indulge in, persuades Minghella, oblivious to their recent clash, as a side-effect of the horns' influence, to accompany him to the scene of the murder, in the hope that it will trigger repentance and an admission of guilt on Minghella's part.

It does neither.

But when a shotgun wielding sheriff, lead to the tree-house by Anderson, reasons that if Minghella lied about Radcliffe suicide, his assertion of Radcliffe's confession must be equally in doubt, Minghella panics, injuring Anderson and killing the officer with his own weapon, forcing Radcliffe to cast off the protective charm, transforming him first into a winged angel, that is immediately consumed by flames, until he finally assumes the fully horned form of a lava-skinned demon, as which he fights Minghella, who he eventually finishes off with the help of more summoned snakes.

However, mortally wounded during the struggle, the radiant heat of Radcliffe's glowing body gradually fades away, until, turning to stone, Radcliffe departs to join Temple in a blissful after-life.

To describe this bowdlerized film version of Joe Hill's best-seller as "Horny Potter and the Devil's Necklace" does Radcliffe a great disservice, as he manages to breath life into a character that couldn't be further from his most famous previous incarnation. It is a great shame, then, that when the producers were wielding the surgeon's machete, they didn't think to remove the snake-charming aspects of the story that are so quintessentially associated with the boy wizard.

Where the film excels, though, is in the depiction of Radcliffe's supernatural powers, the laugh-out-loud comic potential of which are fully realised, once again demonstrating the actor's considerable breadth of talent.

But excised of much of the source material's religious belligerence and lacking the original story's Donnie Darkko'ish symmetry, having traded in the novel's Rolling Stones rock and roll roots for Bowie new age romanticism, what remains is a rather preposterous melodrama, the fantastic elements of which don't make a whole heap of sense, let down, in the end, by a saccharine sweet Hollywood happy ending. It would undoubtedly have been much better served by a suitably dark resolution.

[Shia LaBeouf reportedly passed up on the lead role, that, if not Radcliffe, then "Harry Potter" was surely destined to play. Whether Radcliffe should have accepted the part, despite being, along with Temple, the best thing in the movie, is something he might want to take up with his agent.]