Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Ghoul Versus Alexandre Aja's Horns

"I'm not making a 'horny' joke because the film already did that for me."

I'm back! After a pretty brutal start to the new year, I decided to take a week off to recoup and get my zombie brain back into order. How was your new year? Uh huh... oh really? Right into the punch bowl, eh? Yikes! Well, let's watch a movie to get our minds off things, that ALWAYS makes things better. Today's film is the just released on blu-ray Horns, directed by Alexandre Aja. Aja exploded onto the film scene with his 2003 tour de force High Tension, a film that TRULY earned the title of “visceral”. There's a lot to say about that film but it'll have to wait for another day, main because I've had a hell of a time finding a copy of it.

Aja's career since High Tension has been disappointing to say the least, as he has almost exclusively done underwhelming remakes of much better films such as the Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors. Even High Tension itself wasn't an original idea, as it does appear a fair amount of it was “inspired” by a novel written by Dean Koonz called Intensity. And by inspired, I pretty much mean ripped off. This time Aja has the actual rights to Joe Hill's novel Horns, ensuring everything will be on the up and up from a legal aspect. With a fantastically unique premise and a talented actor in the form of Daniel Radcliffe, was Aja able to recapture some of his old magic? Time to find out with A Ghoul Versus Alexandre Aja's Horns!

We open with your favourite narrative device and mine, NARRATION! Daniel Radcliffe's character Ig is on about how he's always been considered an outsider in the town he lives in, but doesn't care because he has the love of his best gal Merrin. I'm not really paying attention to this though, because I'm more interested in the couple as we see them laying in a forest kissing. It's HOW they're kissing that's irking me, as they are laying with their bodies opposite each other so their heads are meeting upside down. You see this EVERYWHERE in movies and television shows now. I've seen this exact same pose on the posters for the Fault in Our Stars, Bates Motel, Endless Love, and that's just off the top of my head. I know being a zombie I'm really out of touch with what's popular so I ask: is this REALLY a thing?

This scene establishes that they're young and in love, as well as the fact Merrin is played by Juno Temple, whom you might remember as one of the Idiot Fairies from Maleficient.  It's okay if you don't, I certainly wouldn't blame you for trying to forget that movie as much as possible. We cut to a disheveled looking Ig waking up on his kitchen floor next to an empty bottle of booze, as it appears the previous scene was one of those “memory dreams” that seem to happen a lot in movies. I no longer sleep being undead and all, but when I was human I sure never had any hyper detailed dreams about past events. They mostly involved talking candy bars, giant birds, and Herbie the Love Bug for some reason.

Ig gets to his his feet and staggers around, playing David Bowie's seminal record “Heroes” and lapsing into a daydream of Merrin dancing for him. This is interrupted when he opens his curtains to look outside, as we see his lawn is INFESTED with news reporters and protestors. Geez, I know the Woman in Black sucked, but cut him some slack people! Oh never mind, it seems Merrin was murdered and Ig was cleared of the crime in a court of law, but no one believes his innocence. He drives out to see his parents, the media following him every step of the way. His parents are Derrick and Lydia, played by James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan respectively. Remar certainly is no stranger to being the father of a son knee deep in murder, so he should be in his element here. Quinlan previously worked with Aja on his Hills Have Eyes remake, but I'll always remember her most from the HIGHLY entertaining Kurt Russell film Breakdown. Truly a lost gem that you should go out of your way to track down if you've never seen it.

His parents don't appear to believe Ig's innocence either, so he storms outside where his brother Terry goes to talk to him. Terry is played by Joe Anderson, who apparently was one of the nine million Foreign Stereotype vampires in Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2, but I sure don't remember his character. Their conversation is interrupted by Ig's lawyer and childhood best friend Lee, who is the only person in town that actually believes Ig. Le has bad news as all lawyers do: the lab containing Merrin's body burnt down the previous night and now there's no way to recover evidence off it as to who might have really killed her.

We jump ahead to later that night, where Merrin's father Dale is holding a candlelight vigil at the spot her body was found, an old tree house in the woods. Dale is played by the always awesome David Morse, whom I don't think has aged a day in over twenty years. He talks about how he knows Ig killed his daughter, unaware the Ig himself is hiding in the tree house listening. Heartbroken, he waits for everyone to leave and begins smashing one of the religious statues placed near the crime scene. Glenna, a friend who noticed him lurking nearby, drags him away as he is now very drunk.

The next morning he wakes up in Glenna's bed, as we see tiny horns are now sprouting from his forehead. DAMN! What kind of STDs is Glenna carrying? Screw the murder investigation, I think we need to get FEMA involved in this thing. He looks in the bathroom mirror, beginning to freak out as the horns start growing bigger. An understandable reaction, although personally I'd be marching my arse to the doctor for the world's biggest penicillin shot. When he exits the bathroom Glenna is totally blase towards his new forehead add-ons, instead MUCH more interested in a box of donuts on her coffee table. She asks his permission if she can eat all of them, and then proceeds to basically stuff them whole into her mouth.

The look on his face as he watches her devour the donuts is priceless, as that's probably the only sight in the world that could take his mind off the horns. Glenna begins to confess she wants to get really fat since everyone in the town thinks she's worthless anyway, then proceeds to shove her face directly into the box to continue eating. Ig awkwardly leaves and does indeed go to a doctor, where he's made to fill out forms because OF COURSE he does. As he sits in the waiting room, everyone there begins to tell him their deep dark secrets. When he accidentally touches one of the women, he is able to see an event from her past.

Things only grow more surreal as he sees his doctor, who is also not surprised at all by the horns. He comments he forgets all about them every time he looks away from Ig, instead wanting to talk about his attractive young nurse. Ig finally convinces him to saw the horns off, the nurse putting him under anesthesia which leads to a VERY long flashback sequence of how Ig met Merrin when they were kids. We're barely half an hour into this thing and already I have NO idea what kind of movie this is supposed to be. We went from a dark drama to a bizarre comedy to a touching coming of age tale in the span of ten minutes, which might be a record of some sort.

In spite of bringing the movie to a DEAD halt, the flashback does establish Lee himself also had some feelings for Merrin. I really hope that doesn't mean what I think it does, because that is AMATEUR HOUR if so. Ig comes out of his drug induced state to find his horns still intact because the doctor and nurse are having sex in a chair next to him. After an unsuccessful trip to the church where the priest suggests he kill himself, Ig goes to see Lee. Lee is unique in that he CAN'T see the horns, so Ig concludes they only work on “bad” people. He tests his theory on his parents, which goes about as disastrously as possible. His mother tells him she doesn't want him to be his son anymore, while his father confesses he had the lab burned down so he could protect Ig even though he believes he killed Merrin.

What's the best way to follow up that soul crushing and depressing scene? Why, laugh out loud comedy, DUH! Driving down the road with his entourage of reporters following him, Ig pulls over and tells them to beat the shit out of each other and he'll give an interview to the last person standing. The fight scene from Anchorman breaks out, since this is now a flat out comedy. Ig goes to a nearby bar for any information about Merrin, and after tons of unwarranted confessions learns a waitress from the local diner claims she saw him drag Merrin roughly into his car the night of her murder. This leads to another flashback of that very night, as Ig is getting ready to propose to Merrin after their dinner at the diner.

HOLY SHIT, the waitress is Heather Graham! Yeah, that's not distracting AT ALL. The camera even hangs on her standing around, just to make sure you totally notice it's her. Ig arrives at the diner to find a very morose looking Merrin waiting for him, who confesses she's in love with someone else and is moving to Los Angeles. BOOM. Ig gets enraged and yells at her, getting thrown out of the diner by the manager. Back to the present Ig goes to confront Heather, who admits she's lying about the entire thing to the police in an attempt to get famous and become a reality TV star. Well, that accomplished a lot.

Ig visits his brother next, who is at a bar playing music with his band. They talk about the night at the diner, Terry having witnessed Ig leave alone. Terry, inspired by the horns, goes on to say Merrin left the diner with HIM afterward. However, Merrin left the car to run into the woods shortly after, Ig staying behind to wait for her. He started drinking and passed out, waking up the next morning to find himself covered in blood with a large rock on the seat next to him. Going to look for her, he found her dead body near the tree house, her head cracked in.

He swears he didn't kill her though, Ig not believing him and starting to beat him up. The cops arrive not long after, arresting Ig on some bullshit charge of attempting to flee jurisdiction since the bar is outside of city limits. Eric, one of the cops who was a childhood friend of Ig's, begins to rant about how he wants to kill him for killing Merrin, but this soon digresses into how he wants to have sex with his partner. These tone shifts are giving me WHIPLASH. Lee bails Ig out, Ig noticing his friend is wearing Merrin's cross. Yeah, that's not suspicious in the slightest. Ig puts two and two together and realizes LEE was the one Merrin was seeing, running off while Lee tries to explain things.

Since the bulk of this movie consists of “Ig goes to see...” scenes, he decides it's time to add Dale to his list. This scene ALSO goes nowhere and once again brings the film to a screeching halt. Not that it was traveling too fast previously. Ig drives down the road racking his brain who he can see next when he notices a giant snake in the road, stopping the car. He wanders out to an old factory and tries to smash his horns off to no avail, after giving up noticing there are now TONS of snakes crawling towards him. He grabs a conveniently placed pitchfork to fight them off, but they just want to be friends. Oh... a movie where Daniel Radcliffe has the ability to control snakes, THAT'S original.

I find this funny because Radcliffe has tried very hard to distance himself from being typecast as Harry Potter, even giving an infamous interview where he compared to it being in the Mafia. And yet two of the first three films he's been in since the Deathly Hallows have featured very hard to miss allusions to Harry Potter, the Woman in Black had several and now you have him with snake powers! I know both of those stories were based off preexisting books, but you'd THINK Radcliffe would read these scripts and thought twice about taking the role. Although based off the quality of the stories of the Woman in Black and Horns, maybe he just kind of skimmed the pages and focused on that paycheck.

Emboldened by the rediscovery of his Parseltongue powers, Ig departs on the “Ig goes to see... NOW WITH VENGEANCE!” 2014 Tour as he goes back to Heather's diner. She JUST HAPPENS to be sitting in her car alone when he sicks his snakes on her to turn this into a bad 1980s horror movie, making what I believe is the sixteenth genre this film has borrowed from. His snakes destroy her pretty face as he lectures her about the sins of vanity, and just like that this is a David Fincher dark thriller. Also, um, shouldn't Ig be a sympathetic hero or something? Sure, Heather was a total bitch trying to ruin his life for her own personal gain, but couldn't he have just used his horns to make her admit this to the police? Turning into John Doe probably isn't the direction I would have gone, but that's just me.

Watching Heather get her face fucked up by snakes was pretty disturbing, so you know it's COMEDY TIME! Ig makes the cops following him finally give into their desires and have sex with each other, allowing him to freedom to drive to his brother's. Terry's punishment for keeping his silence about Merrin's death is to overdose on drugs, which leads to an extremely psychedelic and trippy sequence where he freaks the fuck out while Ig eggs him on. Maybe this wasn't meant to be a movie, but instead Alexandre Aja's demo reel to show how many styles he can pull off?

That brief foray into a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, Ig decides Lee is next to the plate. They end up fighting on a pier and Ig rips off Merrin's necklace, which apparently was what kept Lee from seeing the horns and being immune to their powers. Now stripped of the protection of the cross, Lee reveals that HE was the one who killed Merrin. Dun dun duuu- oh wait, I already totally knew that. Vertigo, this certainly is not. Ig grabs him to get the details, seeing he was also at the diner that night and followed Merrin into the woods after she got out of Terry's car. Having been in love with her his entire life he tried to kiss her, but she was absolutely not having any of that. Lee went psycho 0 to 100 psycho and began to beat and rape her, finally crushing her head with the rock to make her stop fighting him off.

THAT was vile. Aja even goes as far to show Merrin, still barely alive and whimpering as blood spurts out of her skull. Is this REALLY how I'm starting off the new year? God. Lee takes the rock and plants it in Terry's car, smearing blood on him to help his frame job. This horrific act causes Ig to let his guard down, Lee grabbing a chain and beating the shit out of him. He throws Ig into his car and lights it on fire, Ig coming to and driving into the water to try to save himself. Things jump ahead to Lee covering all of this up by telling the cops Ig confessed to Merrin's murder and then killed himself, the police announcing this at a press conference as Terry watches from the hospital.

Ig isn't dead of course, just horribly burned as he surfaces from the water while his snakes watch from the beach. Where were you assholes when he was getting beat up with a chain?! Ig staggers back to Dale's, who now suddenly believes that he didn't kill his daughter. Okay? He gives him a key he found in her room with Ig's name on it, saying it didn't “feel right” to give it to the police. Oh my God, this movie... In return Ig attempts to give him Merrin's cross but Dale says he should keep it because he still needs her to keep him safe. Ig puts it on and BAM, INSTA-HEAL! In addition to healing his skin it also removes his horns, restoring him back to that handsome Daniel Radcliffe state we all know and love. Normally I'd ask how any of this makes sense, but this isn't that type of movie and I just want to be done with this.

Ig returns to the tree house, where he finds a locked trapdoor that Merrin's key unlocks. Inside he finds a letter that explains she had cancer and didn't want him to go through the hell of watching her die, so she intentionally wanted to hurt him and push him away so he wouldn't have to go through that. Ig makes a quick stop to tell Terry about Lee, and I'm just going to ignore how he got into the hospital with NO ONE noticing him. Maybe Merrin's cross gives him invisibility powers? Ig goes to talk to Lee, who magically doesn't remember trying to kill him because... reasons. He obviously remembered it enough when he went to the police to spin his cover story, LONG after he was clear of the influence of the horns.

The two lifelong friends go for a walk in the woods, ending up at the fateful tree house. Ig wants him to go the police station and turn himself in, but before this can go anywhere Terry and Eric show up. Eric, brandishing a shotgun, believes Terry's story about Lee's guilt and is ready to take him in. Lee wrenches the shotgun away and blows Eric's head off for a scene that looks straight out of High Tension, ruined when Lee begins to giggle like a madman. I don't think this movie is capable of going five minutes without changing into a different type of movie. Lee, completely off the deep end now, points the barrel of the gun at Ig. Ig responds by ripping off the necklace, causing him to sprout massive angel wings.

The wings then burst into flames that consume his entire body, transforming him into a bad ass looking horned demon. Oh ho, it's ON NOW LEE! Lee unloads shotgun blast after shotgun blast into Hellfire Ig, but they do nothing as he begins to advance on him. I can't wait to see Ig get unholy retribution upon Lee for all of his unforgivable crimes! Only... Lee switches to the pitchfork and begins to stab the shit out of Ig. Huh. Kind of figured Ig would have done... something. This goes on for far too long until it finally dawns on Ig how ridiculous it looks that he's getting his ass handed to him by a skinny Dave Franco wannabe, so he gores him with his horns through the stomach and hurls him viciously into a tree.

The lazy ass snakes show up, late to the party as usual. They envelop him, crawling through the hole in his stomach and down his throat in the film's first real bad looking CGI shot. Up to this point it's looked quite good, so I'll let this one slide. With Lee finally, FINALLY dead, Ig has nothing left to live for so he succumbs to his eight million stab wounds and dies. Just for added cliché, he dies in Terry's arms and turns into an ashen version of himself. Ig narrates us out as we return to the film's opening scene, which is really our two love birds in Heaven... or wherever.

Cue the credits, set to the very awesome Sunset Rubdown track “Shut Up, I am Dreaming of Places Where Lovers Have Wings”.

Daniel Radcliffe was phenomenal in this movie. Very few actors could have taken the rubbish script he was given and turned it into the captivating performance he turned in, and that's even despite his brief detour into psycho revenge-getter. Watching the later Harry Potter films you knew this guy had talent, but if you want a shining example of how amazing he is, here you go. The film looked great too, Aja definitely has a knack for making his worlds FEEL real and lived in.

Thus ends everything nice I have to say about this movie. The script was the ABSOLUTE worst, coming off like one of those mainstream summer blockbusters that tries to appeal to every demographic possible by trying to include every type of genre and hoping for the best. Hell, it'd probably be easier to list to kinds of movies this film WASN'T trying to be that by naming the ones it was. And like all those popcorn movies, you're left with a highly jarring affair that is all over the place and never once felt like a cohesive story.

The pacing and editing certainly didn't do it any favours either, as this was a very boring and repetitive movie. The entire movie plays out with Ig meeting with a few people, then having a lengthy flashback, and repeating the whole process over and over again. I haven't read the book but some quick research tells me it was told in a nonlinear style, so it's likely Aja was trying to capture that concept but fucked it up BADLY. The flashbacks are the death of this story, going on way too long and killing what should be a fast paced ticking clock narrative.

I've heard this was marketed as a horror-comedy, but that's an outright lie as the (totally inappropriate) comedy dies out at the end of the first act and the horror is extremely limited. Fans of darker modern fantasy might get something out of this, but I think the erratic tone would put them off as well since those elements end up being rather pointless. Radcliffe's performance does help to balance out the massive negatives, but this is still one of the poorer films to come out of 2014. I will only recommend it to hardcore Radcliffe fans and that is it, because there's not else here for anyone else.