JANUARY 5, 2015
I really really wanted to see Horns when it came out; I hadn't missed any of Aja's films theatrically (I was one of the 9 people who saw High Tension during its US run) and I love that Daniel Radcliffe has turned out to be a pretty damn good actor. But alas, after missing it at Beyond Fest I blanked on its theatrical release entirely - I'm not even sure what (if any) theaters it played at near me during its 2 week run (per Boxofficemojo). As with most of Radius-TWC's genre releases, they didn't really advertise that it was out, and was probably in the smaller theaters instead of the bigger multiplexes, so basically you had to be specifically looking for it to know it was out, so if you're busy (like I was, with moving) it would just pass you by.
And that's an even bigger bummer when you consider that the movie is pretty fun, the sort of thing that'd be a blast with a big crowd of appreciative fans. It's not a perfect movie by any means, but its issues would probably be less noticeable if there were 200 people enjoying the movie in a dark theater (and around Halloween to boot), something that probably never even happened outside of festival showings. Of course, Radius is one of the studios who are pro-VOD, opting to show the movie in private homes BEFORE it played theatrically, a model that I'll never support but am clearly on the losing side of the battle. If this had been picked up by Fox (who released a couple of Aja's other films) it likely would have been released traditionally and possibly even become a hit. Instead, you're likely to have a conversation with someone who was unaware it had ever even come out. Sigh.
Anyway, I never read the book, but according to a talkback comment in my latest Badass article, the whodunit aspect of the movie doesn't exist in the source material - author Joe Hill told you who it was right off the bat. The mystery is definitely one of those aforementioned weaknesses; there are two obvious picks and one is a bit TOO easy so it has to be the other one. But then again, the early part of the movie, where you're not sure if Radcliffe's character Iggy IS innocent of the murder he's being accused of, works pretty well - and obviously the book wouldn't have that sort of intrigue if we knew it was ______. I'd have to read it to know for sure, but I don't think the whodunit aspect was a bad idea; I think the execution itself is to blame. With a few more suspects it might have worked like gangbusters.
A shorter length might have helped too; the movie creeps around two hours, which is fine in theory (the book is nearly 400 pages, so they clearly had to cut things as it is), but with an uninvolving mystery it starts to drag, as you just want Iggy to catch up to where you likely were an hour before. Then there are TWO showdowns with the killer, both of which seem to go on longer than necessary - if Aja and screenwriter Keith Bunin had found a way to combine the two I think the film as a whole would have been even more successful. It's possible that they took this direct from the book, but that doesn't matter - they're here to make a movie, not translate something that exists in another medium. What works on the page might fall flat on screen and vice versa, and it's their job to know the difference.
Otherwise, I was pretty entertained. The titular horns that appear on Iggy's head one day serve two comedic purposes; one being that no one seems to be bothered all that much by them, sort of like how in Grosse Pointe Blank no one really cared that Cusack's character was a hitman ("It's a growth industry!"). The other is that they inspire everyone to be brutally honest with Iggy and anyone else around, so you get a woman admitting out of nowhere how much she hates her bratty daughter and wishes she could be fucking her tennis instructor again. And then it helps the mystery in a weird way, because he can ask people for answers and they won't lie or hide anything, which should have been used to help speed the movie up but is still a good way to earn laughs in the 2nd half of the movie, when the gimmick otherwise could have been played out.
It's also got the best cast assembled for a genre film in ages. Any movie with David Morse is automatically at least "pretty good", and Aja roped in some other fine character actors like James Remar and Joe Anderson (as Iggy's father and brother, respectively) for good measure. I wish Kathleen Quinlan (the mom) was in it more, but as a tradeoff he even manages to make Heather Graham fun for the first time in over a decade, and as a Red Velvet fan it was great to see Kelli Garner in a genre film again. And again, Radcliffe has proven there's more to him than Harry Potter, to the point that even when Iggy interacts with snakes it barely registered as a coincidence to his parseltongued former character (he also does a pretty great job with an American accent; not sure if I've ever heard him with one before). Oh, Juno Temple does nothing for me but I know she is quite beloved by some of my peers - she's good too.
But what really surprised me is that the humor really worked more often than not. The TONE is a bit all over the place, and as a result I wasn't sure if certain things were supposed to be funny or not, but considering Aja wouldn't even let loose with Piranha 3D (he wanted to make a real horror movie) I feared that he simply didn't have it in him to find the humor in such a strange tale. Perhaps someone else could have made it even FUNNIER, but I'm just happy that when I did laugh, it was the intended result, not my being amused by something meant to be taken seriously. There's a bit late in the film where someone bursts out laughing after someone's head is blown off, and it's a perfect dark comedy moment - it's good that Aja is branching out! This is the guy that couldn't even find the fun in Jack Bauer fighting killer mirrors.
Sadly he didn't feel the need to discuss his newfound appreciation of the funny - it's the first of his films that he didn't provide an audio commentary for the DVD. Between that and the movie's curiously long time on the shelf (it was shot in 2012) makes me wonder if there wasn't some sort of post-production drama that resulted in both the film's limited release and this curiously low-key disc, which only has a single EPK style making of (with Aja's talking head bits coming from what appears to be a French junket) for bonus features. No trailer, no deleted scenes, no alternate language tracks, nada. The making of is fine - I particularly liked the look at how they created the appliance for Radcliffe to wear (and the surprising reveal that the movie's horns were much more realistic looking than the novel's, which apparently flashed red) - but it's hardly adding much value to the disc, which already had to overcome the fact that people could have been watching the movie at home for months now (another reason why this "VOD before theatrical" model makes no sense to me).
I know some folks hated the movie, and I can almost see why - anything with these sort of tonal shifts requires a certain mood, and I just happened to be in it when I watched. Would it have been a big hit if given a wide release? Who knows, but it certainly would have had curious moviegoers looking to find out. Woman In Black made a lot of money, and I suspect a lot of it was just from folks who wanted to see "Harry Potter" as an adult, so there's no reason to think that this wouldn't have benefited from the same sort of thing (if not more so, since he's more age appropriate and playing a role much further removed than his famous character than he did in Woman, where he was ironically a bit too young to be playing a lawyer with a 5 year old son). And a bigger success could have resulted in more adaptations for Joe Hill's work (maybe Locke & Key could have been revived!), so that's also a bummer. Usually when a dud theatrical release hits disc I will say something like "Fix your mistake, see what you missed!" but it's been available at home since early October, and thus you've probably already done that. So I guess this disc release is specifically for people like me who don't want to contribute to the VOD market but also missed its theatrical window? What a strange way to release a movie.
What say you?