Let me get this out of the way first—Horns is a festering shitpile of a movie. Don’t watch it. No—I know you like Daniel Radcliffe. I know the premise is interesting. I know the trailer looks kinda cool. Don’t do this to yourself. There’s a reason it was dumped on Halloween weekend over a year after its world premiere, and that reason is that it sucks. If you don’t trust me, trust its 44% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Warning: This article has spoilers, because I just don’t fucking care.
The tl;dr of Horns is that Ig’s (Daniel Radcliffe) girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) gets murdered, and everyone thinks Ig did it because apparently he has a reputation as a giant asshole for some reason that’s never touched on even a little. One day he wakes up with horns that somehow persuade everyone he meets to confess their deepest, darkest secrets. There’s only one person they don’t work on: Ig’s best friend Lee (Max Minghella). Which, by the laws of common fucking sense, means Lee killed Merrin—“the squeaky-clean best friend did it” is one step up from “the butler did it.” But Ig thinks Lee must be immune to his powers because he doesn’t have any dark secrets. Because Ig’s an idiot. C’mon, dude. The power works on literally everyone else. The parts of the movie where Ig plays around with his powers, like the bit in the trailer where he makes TV news reporters have an Anchorman-esque brawl, are the most interesting, yet instead we get an hour of watching him schlep through a mystery subplot that we figured out in the first 20 minutes.
It turns out—shocker—that Lee did in fact kill Merrin. That’s when the film takes a turn for the good with one scene that says a lot about the culture of male entitlement that’s been rearing its ugly head of late with things like GamerGate, CelebGate, and StreetHarassmentThankfullyNotaGateGate. The reason Lee kills Merrin is that he’s in love with her (or obsessed with her, anyway) and just cannot understand that she’s not in love with him, too. “Every time the three of us hang out together it’s like there’s this elephant in the room, because we’re so clearly meant to be together, but nobody says anything,” he expains to increasingly terrified Merrin, who’s starting to release that Lee’s the guy who follows women arond bars and refuses to take polite silence as a sign that they’re not interested—the guy who sends rape threats women online because that’s what they get for being “in the public eye”—the guy who steals nude pics of celebs because Jennifer Lawrence shouldn’t have photographed her breasts if she didn’t want everyone (read: straight men) to see them—the guy who responds to women saying “It makes me uncomfortable when men I don’t know approach me on the street” with “Well, you shouldn’t, because I’m a nice guy and I dont mean it like that.”
Lee is the Nice Guy (TM) taken to murderous extremes. He asks about all the “signals” Merrin’s been sending him, about all the times they’ve “stare[d] at each other.” There were no signals. There was no staring. He’s a delusional psychopath who can’t imagine that a woman he wants wouldn’t want him. “I know you love me,” he proclaims. “I love you.” I saw the movie with a female friend, and we both disliked it as a whole—but we were both incredibly affected by that scene, because seeing the extreme version of what women face to a lesser extent on a daily basis is terrifying.
But while Horns points out this toxic male entitlement culture, it also contributes to it. Merrin eventually says, not “I don’t love you,” but “I love Ig,” as if being claimed by another man is the reason he should back off, and not “you’re being a real fucking creeper right now and I would never want to be with you ever.” I’d be willing to give Horns the benefit of the doubt on that front, to say that Merrin knows that’s the only answer Lee would accept, fucked up as it is, so that’s why she gives it to him, if only the rest of the film weren’t so unbearably sexist.
Merrin isn’t even a character in her own right—everything she does (we see a good chunk in flashback scenes) revolves around wanting to make Ig’s life better. At one point the idea is floated that she’s leaving Ig because they’ve been together since they were kids, and she wants to have some experiences separate from him. It’s the only time she takes any initiative purely for herself. But no, she’s breaking up with him because she has terminal cancer and wants to spare him the pain of seeing her die. And then that decision directly leads to her being raped and murdered. Because yup, the self-sacrificing Madonna half of this movie’s raging Madonna/whore complex does get raped. Someone help, I’m choking on my own vomit.
(The other half of Madonna/whore, by the way, is Heather Graham’s self-absorbed waitress character, who swans around lying to the police so she can become famous and get her own reality TV show. It’s as bad as it sounds.)
Don’t feel left out, homophobes—this movie has something for you, too. At one point Radcliffe uses his special powers to punish people who have fucked him over in a way that vaguely matches up with the seven deadly sins. Graham, whose sin was motivated by pride, gets her face fucked up by snakes, for example. For lust, we have a policeman/ex-childhood friend who was particularly cruel to Ig after Merrin died. His punishment? Being forced to admit that he’s in love with his male partner, because lolol teh ghey. The way it was played for comedy made it less “your punishment is being forced to come out of the closet when you’re not ready” and more “your punishment is being gay in the first place.”
The entire movie is like that—puerile, dumb, trashy, and just nonsensical. Except that one short, remarkably effective scene that lays the male ego on the line… before feeding into it with the other 90% of the film.
Rebecca is on Twitter @RebeccaPahle.