Yesterday as I was paying for my ice-cream at the Ben and Jerry’s Stall at the cinema, the guy behind the counter asked my husband and I what we were going to see. When we told him that we were going to see Horns his reply was “Little Daniel Radcliffe, eh? Who’d have thought he’d play a demon?” And, I think that’s the problem with becoming a star for one big role when you’re a kid. No matter how good you are since then, people are always going to think of you as that early role. As much as I try not to be, I’m guilty of this too. After reading the book of Horns and finding out about Ig Perrish’s (the role played by Radcliffe) control of snakes I spent the next week telling my husband that Ig must be a Parseltongue too and doing my best snake-like talking a la Harry Potter: “hesss esss inn esss” or something like that.
Anyway, the combined power of the script and Radcliffe’s acting in Horns means that, snakes or no snakes, whilst watching I didn’t think back to Harry Potter at all. Ignatius Perrish is a fully rounded and fully realised character. He is struggling with the murder and rape of his long-term girlfriend, and struggling with the fact that his whole home town believes that he is responsible. They believe he is the devil so don’t seem too surprised when he actually sprouts horns on the top of his head. Not only does he begin to look like the devil but Ig finds that he has the power to find out people’s inner urges and even encourage them to act upon them. A landlord sets fire to his own bar to claim insurance money, a local at this bar pulls down his trousers to show everyone his penis, a young child tells him “I hate Mommy. I want to burn her in her bed with matches.”
This is not your typical horror film. Yes, there is a demon/devil and yes, there are some very horrific/violent/gory scenes. But if you go to Horns looking for a typical jumpy watch you are going to be disappointed. As I said with the book, Horns has a love story at its heart. The use of flashbacks allows director Alexandre Aja to really delve into the depth of emotion in Ig and Merrin’s relationship. We see their first meeting in church and how the relationship blossoms from friendship to first romance to a more adult love. The flashbacks are really well managed and the casting for the younger versions of the characters was pretty much spot on. Juno Temple plays Merrin on the right side of lovable and adorable. The character has inner depths and torment and doesn’t simply act as a MPDG.
There have been several changes in taking Horns from book to screen. Characters have been conflated or changed- Merrin’s mum died of breast cancer in the film, not her sister, and Eric is no longer a security guard but one of the policemen whose thoughts are not totally on the job. These changes are pretty irrelevant though. You can see why these changes would be made in relation to the time frame of the film. Something has got to give… you can’t fit everything in! Some elements have been pared down and made less supernatural (such as The Treehouse of the Mind from the book becoming much more literal) which makes sense- if you are asking your audience to suspend their disbelief about a character sprouting horns but keeping most of the rest of the story set in a realistic world you don’t want to confuse the issue with places which appear and disappear almost at random. I can also understand why Glenna’s role was somewhat diminished in the film- there simply wasn’t as much time to explore her character as deeply. It was a shame though as I found her to be a surprisingly engaging character in the book and I found Kelli Garner’s portrayal of her to be really enjoyable.
In the book we find out who killed Merrin fairly early in the proceedings, the book less concerned with “who dunnit” than “why dunnit”. Author Joe Hill uses the space of the novel to question the nature of evil and the relationship of good and evil. Ig in the film is still a complex character who incites pretty nasty behaviour but we don’t see him push his grandmother down a hill. The moral nature of the real killer of Merrin is also much more cut and dry in the film than it necessarily is in the novel. However, to be fair, a novel has more space to do these things than a film. The film takes the dark humour of the novel and pushes this further. The subtleties of tone are left behind but there is a delicious dark tinge to the film that reflect Hill’s novel well.