Radcliffe on ‘Horns’ of a dilemma

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Is “Horns” a dark fantasy thriller or a comedic parody of one? Or is its tone so vacillatory that it is impossible to discern this salient consideration?

The even bigger question is whether Daniel Radcliffe, who portrayed Harry Potter in nine films, can resurrect his floundering career?

Twenty-six-year old Ignatius Perrish (Radcliffe) and Merrin Willams (Juno Temple) have been sweethearts since grade school in their Pacific Northwest town. In an early scene, Ig and Merrin are canoodling in the forest. Merrin asks provocatively, “Are you horny?” Ig replies, “I’m getting warmer.” The rhetorical exchange proves prophetic.

Ig wakes up one morning to discover that Merrin has been brutally raped and murdered. He has become the prime suspect. This doesn’t make any sense, but nothing in this film does. Ig is a wimpy little guy, who has no history of violence. He did have an argument with Merrin in a local diner the night that she was killed.

A screen capture of from the trailer to the film "Horns" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg9GW3Krsi8

A screen capture of from the trailer to the film “Horns” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg9GW3Krsi8

In addition, horn-like protuberances have erupted from Ig’s temples. I guess that constitutes conclusive evidence that he must be a diabolical rapist and murderer. The press, townsfolk, even Ig’s own family all assume that he is guilty. Why not skip the formality of a trial and just electrocute him?

In another not so subtle metaphor, Ig drives around town in a fire-engine red Gremlin. Get it? The Gremlin is equipped with a cigarette lighter. Ig makes ample use of it to light cigarettes. He does so notwithstanding that he is shown using an inhaler for his asthma.

Now that Ig has sprouted horns, various characters inexplicably divulge their carefully guarded secrets to him. Two swaggering macho male cops tell Ig that they are smitten with one another and obsessed with their pending sexual interlude. A diner waitress (Heather Graham) confesses that she has provided false testimony to the police, which implicates Ig as Merrin’s murderer. She explains that she desperately wants to garner attention and land a spot on a reality TV show. Merrin’s actual killer interacts with Ig frequently. Yet, he never succumbs to the compulsion to disclose his culpability for the crime. In the novel, it is clear that Ig has developed the paranormal ability to read people’s minds. However, in the cinematic adaptation, characters abruptly start blabbing their secrets to Ig for no apparent rhyme or reason.

The film also includes a bizarre scene, which depicts the aftermath of a booze-fueled, one night stand between Ig and a slatternly barmaid, Glenna (Kelli Garner). Inexplicably, she repeatedly asks Ig for permission to eat another donut as she plows through a dozen box of them. The film spirals in a progressively downward trajectory until it reaches a spectacularly inane ending.

The film derives from a book of the same name by Joe Hill. The novel has attracted a cult following and won the 2010 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel. It is a mash up of contemporary fantasy, murder mystery, and Gothic fiction tropes. Perhaps this amalgamation of elements worked within the context of a literary work. However, as adapted by screenwriter, Keith Bunin, and helmed by horror-flick director, Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes, “Piranha 3D”), the results are horrendous.

It should be noted that Hill is the son of prolific, best-selling novelist, Stephen King. A number of King’s novels, most notably “Carrie,” “The Shining,” “Dolores Claiborne,” and “The Green Mile,” have been successfully translated into movies. However, his oeuvre also includes “Dreamcatcher,” which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster as a movie. Unfortunately, the conceptually ludicrous and ineptly executed “Horns,” more closely approximates “Dreamcatcher” than any of the successful adaptations of  King’s novels.

Starting in 2001, when Daniel Radcliffe was 12, he assumed the role of Harry Potter, the protagonist in one of the most successful franchises in film history. The downside of having such a plum role is that the curse of typecasting is virtually inevitable. Just ask Sean Connery, the original James Bond, how hard it is to escape this dread phenomenon.

Radcliffe has tried mightily to portray non-wizard characters outside of the realm of Hogwarts School. Alas, since concluding his stint of films in the Potter canon, his choices have been singularly ill-considered. They included the horror film, “Lady In Black;” “Kill Your Darlings, in which he played the gay Beat Poet, Allen Ginsburg; and the contemporary romantic dramedy, “What If.”

What do all of these films have in common? They were all intrinsically weak vehicles. None of them offered Radcliffe a role, which would help the public forget that he was Harry Potter.

It doesn’t help that, even at 25, Radcliffe still looks like a teeny bopper. His diminutive stature makes it difficult to accept him as a full-fledged adult. In “Horns,” he sports facial hair. Radcliffe looks like a kid in a grade school play, who has donned a prosthetic beard.

As you may recall, the denouement of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” depicted the protagonist as a grown up. Radcliffe was thoroughly unconvincing in this adult role.

How can Radcliffe ever escape typecasting as the juvenile Harry Potter character? Radcliffe is on the veritable horns of a dilemma.

* R (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use) 120 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.




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