Horns (2014)

Horns26-year-old Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is having a hard time convincing the local community that he did not rape and murder his beloved girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), a task made all the more difficult by the pair of demonic horns that have recently grown out of his temples. Worryingly for Ig, nobody seems particularly surprised to see them, and rather than provoking fear they have the unexpected effect of prompting seemingly uncontrollable outbursts of honesty. At first he is taken aback by everyone’s candour, and shies away from encounters with friends and family for fear of finding out what they truly think of him, but eventually he begins to realise the full potential of his newfound abilities and resolves to use them to find the true perpetrator and finally clear his name once and for all.

Adapted by Joe Hill’s cult novel of the same name, Alexandre Aja’s Horns isn’t the easiest sell. Part crime thriller, part supernatural romance and part Daniel Radcliffe vehicle, it doesn’t know quite what it wants to be, and runs the risk of being not very much at all. It’s rated 15, and rightfully so, but the film never feel as though Aja is making the most of the higher certificate. Supernaturally, the film seems similarly underdeveloped: it’s never exactly clear what the full extent — or indeed the implication — of Ig’s abilities are, while theologically the film and its themes are almost incoherent. In fact, as with The Woman In Black, it works best as a Daniel Radcliffe vehicle, clearly demonstrating just how far the actor has come since his Hogwarts days — even if he remains a pretty unconvincing crier.

Sadly, the rest of the cast isn’t quite as noteworthy. It’s a strange ensemble, unusually lacking in big names and familiar faces. Heather Graham pops up in a small role, but as unexpected and delightful as her cameo is it doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things. For the most part, support comes from Max Minghella as Ig’s best friend and Joe Anderson as his older brother — both of whom may well have had a hand in Merrin’s untimely death. However, while Hill’s book spent arguably too much time exploring the group’s school days Aja’s film essentially glazes over it, meaning that their inter-relationships aren’t nearly as fleshed out as they need to be. Anyone familiar with Juno Temple’s tendency to be the best thing in otherwise unremarkable movies might reasonably expect Merrin to be the exception here, but unusually for the actress her character makes almost no impression whatsoever. She simply isn’t given enough to do.

Aja disappoints too, with an adaptation that doesn’t quite do Hill’s novel the justice it deserves. It’s a funny book, and yet despite the precedent set with his 2010 Piranha reboot the director sadly fails to capture, let alone develop, its sense of humour. Like Piranha, meanwhile, it struggles with what is clearly an insufficient budget. The horns themselves look fine, as does much of the prosthetic work, but whenever CGI is used the effects are nowhere near as convincing. Even the tree house used by Ig and Merrin looks fake, somewhat undermining the (effects-heavy) finale. In contrast, the location used for the town’s timber chute has been beautifully realised and is really quite stunning. Every scene set in its shadow feels grander and more epic, lending one particular set piece more weight and scale than any other.

Ultimately, Horns is flawed but still reasonably good fun. If you’ve already seen The Babadook, and don’t really want to take a chance on Ouija, then it’s a perfectly respectable choice of Halloween film.



The Darkest Hour 3D (2012)

Ben (Max Minghella) and Sean (Emile Hirsch) are two internet entrepreneurs visiting Moscow to sell their party-finding social network and make a fortune. Double crossed moments after landing by an ungentlemanly Swede practised in the ancient foreign art of generally being a bit of a dick, the two American’s seek solace in one of the bars that their product was designed to help locate. Spying two fellow tourists, the foursome’s plans are quickly dashed by a strange light display that suddenly turns into a full-blown alien invasion. With only a handful of light bulbs and the occasional car alarm to help them identify their invisible – but sporadically visible – attackers, they make their way to the American embassy in search of a way home.

Poor Moscow. Having just finished rebuilding their precious Kremlin after Brad Bird blew it to pieces in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the populace are swiftly repaid for their efforts by an alien invasion sent to quickly knock it down again, along with the rest of Russia (and planet Earth for that matter). While the involvement of  Timur Bekmambetov as producer might have been enough to spare us the prospect of another New York-set disaster movie, it sadly doesn’t spare us the contractual unsympathetic American protagonists. This is very much your bog standard sci-fi thriller, only with a slightly different green-screen backdrop.

There is one thing that does set The Darkerst Hour apart from its peers, however, and that’s the fact that its alien invaders are little more than invisible balls of light (make of that what you will) who have decided to decimate our planet in pursuit of our remaining fossil fuels. As you might expect, the fact that all you ever glimpse of our annihilators is a warm glimmer does have an unfortunate impact on the film’s success as a thriller. Unlike the invisible killer at the centre of the far superior Final Destination franchise, the antagonists here have no plan, no apparent motive, and no intricate chain reaction to signpost the next casualty. In The Darkest Hour, victims merely disintigrate, at random, with little cause for alarm, or indeed, thrills.

This distinct lack of threat is only further exasperated by the stupidity of the plot. Considering the aliens are introduced as a flurry of aurora-like phenomenon, gently floating to Earth, the fact that they suddenly begin disintigrating people, dogs and buildings comes as a bit of a surprise. They can blast through walls, lasso people with electric whips and drain even the smallest of batteries in their pursuit of some ambiguous energy, yet they are rendered completely powerless by a feeble pane of glass and improbably impenetrable bird cage. Seriously, despite our heroes’ phones dying at the moment of first contact – because the aforementioned effect they have on electricity – they happily power up the moment they are of use to the story.

Perhaps the most overt attack on your suspension of disbelief comes the moment our heroes are knocked into the Moscow river. Despite falling in at precisely the same time, at precisely the same location, and swiftly washed to safety, one character somehow winds up miles inland, in the middle of an infested train station. Setting off on the inevitable rescue mission, with a microwave gun built from scratch in a matter of hours from spare parts apparently throwing themselves to hand, the film duly carries on for another 20 minutes despite the fact that you’ve ceased caring what happens, not only to the hateful band of survivors, but the human race in general.

The Darkest Hour really is an affront to audience intelligence, as director Chris Gorak seems to put more thought into the opening credits than the rest of the film’s elements combined. If you’re the sort of person who believes that a bus can intuit turns and obstructions just so long as enough electricity is charging through its battery, this is the movie for you. For anyone else, go see anything else released this week. Literally, anything.