The Devil and Daniel Radcliffe: Horns

10/22/2014 4:00 AM |

Directed by Alexandre Aja
Opens October 31

The devil take him: one minute small-town disc jockey Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is lying with his childhood sweetheart Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) in romantic bliss. The next he’s waking up in the topsy-turvy real world where his beloved is dead and he’s the prime suspect in her murder. His family looks at him suspiciously, he’s hounded by paparazzi, and all the townspeople want him dead. It’s his own personal hell, and would that Alexandre Aja’s lukewarm horror romance (adapted by Keith Bunin from a novel by Joe Hill) took the hint and approached the material with more Beelzebub-ian fire.

Though the Lord of the Flies himself doesn’t appear, Ig does feel the scorch of the underworld after he sprouts a pair of horns. Are these physical manifestations of his guilt, or something more? Now every time he’s around other people, they confess, and sometimes enact, their darkest desires. This leads to a number of ribald farcical encounters—like the doctor who wants to take his comely assistant’s temperature with his meat thermometer—but it also provides for a way to find Merrin’s real killer.

Radcliffe throws himself into the role with such committed, baggy-eyed brooding you’d think he was playing one of the great tragic love stories. But his efforts are thwarted by Aja’s wet-blanket filmmaking—the film runs a very bloated two hours (in particular, some lengthy flashbacks to Ig and Merrin’s childhood feel entirely expendable)—and the wild vacillations in tone. It’s hard to take the gauzy scenes of the couple’s courtship very seriously when they’re juxtaposed with labored instances of gross-out comedy (the watering-hole introvert who’s always wanted to give everyone a full-frontal show) and fire-and-brimstone shenanigans (demon… snakes… moving… so… slowly) that barely cause the pulse to quicken.

Among the supporting performers, David Morse fares best, bringing true pathos to the role of Merrin’s grieving father. And it’s fun to see Kathleen Quinlan and James Remar as Ig’s parents, even though they both play their horns-influenced confessions way too broadly. But what a waste Aja and company make of the lovely Heather Graham as a floozy waitress whose lies about Ig put her in a literally hissable predicament. Rollergirl, you’ve fallen so far.