There is nothing better than a crumbling industrial city in the middle of a cold gray fall to put the film in an immediate gloomy mood. Not that Scott Cooper’s Horns »Needs any help from this department as it already deals with child abuse (sexual and psychological), poverty, bullying, hunger, disease, generational trauma, environmental degradation and ancient local superstitions. You could just put it somewhere really dull, right? It seems that no one ever smiles in this Oregon town, not even in line at an ice cream shop. As a reminder, the sad piano and string soundtrack fills every frame. According to Seymour Krelborn, this is a place where “depression is just the status quo.”
But it does give you a good idea of what awaits you in the next 90 minutes. Horns is not your typical horror movie. Most of the horrors here are real (see list above) – the ancient bloodthirsty creature is just a background picture, and it’s a deadly slow burn between the carnage. And despite remarkable ambition and prestigious names, including stars Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons, and producer Guillermo Del Toro, it doesn’t really work as a metaphor or fun, thought-provoking entertainment.
It is believed that this beast was released into the wild, because the world is rotting from the inside. One father (Scott Hayes) ends up in an abandoned mine while his little son Aiden (Sawyer Jones) waits outside in a truck. The film leaves what happened in the mine ambiguous for a while, perhaps relying too heavily on the alleged intrigue of the disclosure. The Horns is Aiden’s older brother Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), who is struggling to cope with everyday worries, but is clearly worried and needs help. It should be mentioned that if you have any disgust about seeing children in trouble, know that you should simply avoid this movie entirely because it is ruthless.
Julia Russell is Lucas’s middle school teacher, uh, who conveniently teaches students about myths when Lucas tells a particularly compelling and specific story and she starts to worry about his well-being. She has her demons too, and reluctantly returned to Oregon to live with her brother Paul (Plemons) after the death of their abusive father. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t believe audiences will understand that they are brother and sister through contextual clues, but instead decides to get Paul to call Julia “sister” the first time we meet him, and never again. However, somehow Plemons sells him and a few other clunkers as soon as he can: with an innate natural, self-deprecating charm.
Julia’s interest in Lucas is not hard to reveal, given her past, when no adult figures appeared to have come to the rescue. The film overlays depressing metaphors on top of depressing metaphors to its own detriment. Instead of making you think, it just makes you scratch your head.
And of course, things get more alarming the more she delves into the Weavers’ domestic life, which causes a number of ripple effects, including releasing the beast into an already destroyed city and making her brother’s job more difficult. Russell sells his role as well, and he is believable as a recovering alcoholic who does not go through the trauma of his childhood at all.
But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the plot is inferior to the idea and design of the beast, which, besides the heroic line of Plemon, is undoubtedly the best thing about The Horns.
Horns, which was released in theaters by Searchlight on Friday, was rated an R by the American Film Association for violence, including gruesome images, and language. The duration of the performance is 99 minutes. Two stars out of four.
MPAA Definition R: Restricted. Up to 17 years of age, a parent or adult guardian is required.
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