If "Horns" had the zip of the source novel's first two paragraphs, we'd have a movie instead of a mess. The book, published in 2010, begins by laying out the dilemma author Joe Hill invents for his protagonist. Ignatius "Ig" Perrish has a hangover, and the morning after a night of unspecified "terrible things," he puts his hands to his temples and realizes he has a "pair of knobby pointed protuberances" where none used to be.
A murder mystery, "Horns" concerns a young man who turns his back on the Lord in anguish and is both punished and rewarded. His true love's killer remains at large a full year following the discovery of the body. Ig's the prime suspect. On the anniversary of the killing, Ig develops his horns and learns he has special powers to go with the headgear. By physically touching people, he can see events and secrets from their pasts.
Hill's book has its ardent admirers, but the mixture of black comedy, gore and biblical archetypes would be a hellish challenge for anybody to translate to film. Keith Bunin wrote the script to the film version, directed by horror specialist Alexandre Aja ("High Tension," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Piranha 3D"), and it's a strange, unsatisfying mashup. A lot of the rougher stuff, depicting Ig's late-inning vengeance, is sadistically misjudged. It's hard to jerk tears a beat or two after gleeful rounds of brutality, even if it happens to, or because of, dear wee Daniel Radcliffe.
As Ig, the "Harry Potter" franchise alum labors valiantly to stay on course with a role, and material, that goes every which way. The story has been relocated to "Twilight" territory in the Pacific Northwest. The cast includes Juno Temple as the Eve-like girlfriend. David Morse, who always looks guilty about something, portrays the victim's grieving father; Max Minghella is Ig's lawyer, who knew him when. Like the book, the movie can't get enough satanic iconography, down to Ig's vehicle of choice (an AMC Gremlin). Some of the details are entertaining; the cast commits 100 percent. But, honestly, I couldn't wait for "Horns" to wrap up so I could get back to my own angelic pursuits outside of the screening room.
"Horns" - 1 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence, including a sexual assault, language and drug use)
Running time: 2:00