THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT: Movie reviews of Horns and St. Vincent by Howard Casner

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hornsHorns, the new supernatural, fantasy, horror, neo-noir written by Keith Bunin and directed by Alexandre Aja, has a clever, if not neat, little concept.

A young man, Ig Perrish, universally hated in the small town he lives in (for good reason, in many ways, since he’s accused of killing his long time girlfriend Merrin), grows a pair of devil’s horns which causes everyone he meets to confess their deepest desires and even fulfill them, no matter how awful they may be, if the young man gives them permission.

And there are some clever scenes here and there as these normal on the outside, white picket fence, Sunday go to meeting citizens suddenly revel in their cravings to carry out their secret, if often perverse, yearnings.

But in the end, the movie never really comes together and gets bogged down in what may seem an extraneous through line concerning the rape and murder of said girlfriend.

I’m not sure why everyone felt the need to make the story a murder mystery. It’s that way in the novel by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), so I can’t really blame Bunin and Aja. But this aspect of the story only seems to get in the way of what really works here, this look into the hearts of darkness of people you originally thought were just a few steps up from pod people.


Part of the problem is that there really isn’t much of a mystery. It’s obvious in the first couple of scenes who the real murderer is. The screenplay gives it away fairly quickly, but acts like it’s a huge surprise when everything is revealed at the end.


But there is also an issue when it comes to people’s reaction to the horns. When a bar owner reveals he just wants to set his bar on fire and collect the insurance; or a mother wants to drop kick her spoiled brat of a little girl who won’t stop throwing a tantrum; or two patrolmen confess they think about each other when they whack off; and what has to be the highlight, a group of media leeches who get into a knock down drag out in order to get an exclusive…these scenes are hugely entertaining.


But when the Ig’s mother tells him she really thinks he’s guilty; or his father tells him that he never knew how to talk to him; or the Catholic priest secretly wants to hang Ig himself, well, we didn’t need the horns to be told that. That was pretty clear from the acting and writing as it was.


So we never really find out how people he knows really feel about him. We find out how they feel about him when it comes to whether he is a murderer or not, but not how they feel about him essentially, how they felt about him before he was a pariah. And so these scenes tend to fall a bit flat and not take the movie or characters anywhere.


It might have worked if the murder and how people reacted to Ig revealed something about how they felt about him all this life. But I never felt that that was what was happening.


And for a story whose central thesis are the horns and the mystery, it’s a bit frustrating how it constantly gets off track of these two through lines through lengthy flashbacks dramatizing Ig and his growing up with his girlfriend and best buds. These scenes don’t add much to the proceedings, emotionally or plotally, and they just seem to drag things out unnecessarily.


Plus the whole thing is bookended by a beginning with the arrival of the horns that feels clunky and unwieldy and an ending that becomes unintentionally ludicrous and drawn out.


Ig is played by Daniel Radcliffe who has been working his tail off since the Harry Potter franchise to not just be taken seriously as an actor, but to actually become a good one.


At the same time, he still seems to be struggling with figuring out just what types of roles are right for him, which ones are a good fit. His too most notable films of late are The Woman in Black and Kill Your Darlings. But in neither did he ever seem quite comfortable. It’s not that he was necessarily bad in the roles, but he just wasn’t right for them.


Ig Perrish is the same. Radcliffe works hard, but he never seems to be convincing enough. The whole thing feels and looks awkward.


As does the movie as a whole.


Keep a look out for all sorts of Biblical references from license plates referring to Bible verses; an eating establishment called Eve’s Diner that has an apple for a sign; and a bunch of snakes.


I mean, a bunch of snakes.


A whole hell of a lot of snakes.


st vincentBill Murray has had an interesting trajectory of a career. He started out as an actor either playing silly roles in silly movies (Caddyshack, Little Shop of Horrors) or straight roles in silly movies (Ghostbusters, Meatballs, Stripes).


He then morphed into an actor playing straight roles in straight movies (though still comedic) like Groundhog Day, Quick Change and Scrooged.


After that he found his most intriguing incarnation, the burnt out husk of a man full of world weariness and self loathing, perhaps first seen in Rushmore, continuing on with Lost in Translation and now, in what is arguably (and I expect to hear plenty of “oh, no you didn’t’s” here) his finest performance as the heavy drinking, heavy gambling, self-destructive title character in writer/director Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent.


First, it must be said that there is nothing that original about the movie. The basic premise and story outline is the same as Nick Hornsby’s About a Boy—a troubled mother and her son move next door to a less than perfect example of the human race and said example ends up taking care of and mentoring the son while the son softens the exterior of the mentor. Life lessons abound and are appropriately learned.


So, yeah, there is nothing out of the box or artistically daring here. And the whole thing pretty much plays out in a fairly formulaic manner with no real surprises along the way. It works itself out pretty much how movies like this generally work themselves out.


At the same time, it is extremely well written by Melfi (his first full length foray). It’s witty and filled with nicely drawn characters and the plot is never less than entertaining. He may not be a great writer, time will tell, but he is so far a first rate craftsman.


Even Vincent himself is a fairly familiar incarnation of stage and screen, the good ol’ Mr. Wilson, though a self-destructive one, who drinks his self-loathing and misanthropy from a bottle and would yell at kids to get off his lawn if he could stay sober long enough to do so (and if he had a lawn—it’s all pretty much dirt).


But he’s still a great character to watch and Murray seems to disappear into this role in a way he has never done before.   Maybe it’s the Brooklyn accent that gives him one more layer to hide behind. But this is the kind of role that Murray excels at and here he may have passed his personal best, especially in a highly touching scene where Vincent can’t quite comprehend that his wife has passed away.


The rest of the cast is filled with a first rate set of character actors, including Melissa McCarthy, who hits a sweet spot as the mother overwhelmed by her situation, and Chris O’Dowd as a priest and the boy’s teacher who takes his calling very non-seriously in a very serious way (he does such things as call Mother Theresa the Old MT). They both show crack comic timing and have great chemistry.


Perhaps the only real false note is Naomi Watts as Daka, a pregnant Russian prostitute. You spend most of the time (as you did with her role in Birdman) just trying to figure out what an actress of such renown (21 Grams, The Impossible, The Painted Veil, Fair Game and many others) is even doing in the movie (is this what two Oscar nominations earn you?). But the role is probably the least original and interesting in the film.


With Jaeden Lieberher giving a very affecting performance in his screen debut as the boy.


Bring your handkerchiefs. There won’t be a dry eye in the house at the ending.



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