Horns (2013) is chock-full of hell and devil metaphors, from the obviousness of the physical protuberances on Ig’s (Daniel Radcliffe) head to more subtle scenic cues. Almost every scene has some form of hellish reference, whether it's the character with missing middle fingers that render his hand in a permanent devil-horn shape, the license plates of every car in the film showcasing a bible verse, the brightly-colored neon apple at Eve’s Diner, Ig’s smoking habit despite his asthma, or that fire-colored Gremlin. Sometimes the metaphors are funny. Sometimes they are so plentiful, minor ones slip by without being seen. But are they important to the film, or a case of the director throwing out tons of hellish allusions in hopes that a few work?
“Are you horny?” is the first line of the film. It’s pretty silly, and it sets the viewer up for a barrage of subtle and not-so-subtle devil jokes, references, and puns. Ig has been demonized by his friends and community for the alleged murder of his girlfriend, Mirren (Juno Temple). She’s an angelic-looking ray of beauty who shares a name with Max von Sydow’s priest from The Exorcist (1973), because Horns couldn’t even resist from giving its God-like character a devilish connection. Though that, of course, can be blamed on Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King and author of the novel upon which the film is based.
Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post doesn’t think all this hellish metaphor does anything to help the film. It’s just style with no bearing on the film’s substance. He says, “The damned thing is, there doesn’t seem to be any larger point to all of this hellishness. Guilty or innocent, Ig doesn’t really represent anything except a dude with horns. And the film has nothing to say about human nature, at least not that hasn’t been said before, and more poetically. Heedless of purpose, Horns charges full speed ahead anyway, ramming its high-concept hooey down your throat until the only heat you feel is from indigestion.”
Horns is an entertaining film if not being analyzed too heavily. It has a cool concept and a great cast, but it does lack control of its tone. It's an indie character drama, it's a black comedy, it's a fantasy/religious exploration - but the seams of editing between those styles aren't fluid. It thus becomes a film with more interesting style than substance, making it a legitimate argument to say that the fun, devilish metaphors and whatnot help carry the film. Since the plot’s “twist” is pretty obvious less than halfway through the film, the metaphors give the viewer something to look for, almost a Where's Waldo of devil-stuff.
“The fun should be in the journey more so than the destination; but while Horns offers alternating moments of good dramatic acting and lively horror/comedy sequences (the “horn effect”), it often feels as if we’re meandering from one of Ig’s encounters to the next. When things go over-the-top religious/supernatural in the final act, the film arguably jumps the shark altogether. With very little propulsion to the journey and a lackluster arrival at final destination, Horns’ two-hour runtime can be a challenge to your patience.” - Kofi Outlaw, ScreenRant