How Does “Horns” Balance Ig’s Transformation Into a Demon Against His Quest for Innocence?

Horns (2013) tells the story of a fellow named Ig Parrish (Daniel Radcliffe). He’s accused of killing his girlfriend, Mirren (Juno Temple). Being demonized by everyone around him, he turns into a literal demon when strange horns sprout from his forehead. Those horns also bestow upon him an unusual power - in somewhat of a Liar Liar (1997) reversal, they make everyone in his presence confess their truest and darkest thoughts. Ig uses this strange power to find out the truth of Mirren’s death.

The quest for innocence under the representation of a devil is quite a unique situation to handle. One doesn’t usually figure someone with devil horns as innocent, nor using a devilishly mystical power as a means to clear their name. The film even leaves Ig’s innocence ambiguous for more than half of the story, as he was drunk and angry on the night of Mirren’s death. Daniel Radcliffe gave his own thoughts on the balance between using a demonic persona and proving innocence in an interview with Christina Radish of Collider:

“There is always something more interesting about a part that is multi-faceted and has a dark side and is more true to life, even in this very heightened world that we’re in, in the film. He’s a true anti-hero. He is absolutely good and you should root for him and be with him, all the way, but that’s not to say that he doesn’t do some questionable things. But, even he questions them. It’s not without consequence. He learns from that, so that he can be, in some sense, redeemed by the end.”

That is ultimately one of the takeaways from Horns. It’s rooted in religious mythology and symbolism, but isn’t exactly a religious film. Ig Parrish isn’t a man possessed by Satan. He’s a man dealing with loss, dealing with everyone assigning him negative qualities that aren’t true, and coping with an environment that wants to see him dead. He’s dealing with feelings of hatred, revenge, sadness, and futility, and the horns are a manifestation of all those terrible emotions that are completely human. The horns and devil metaphors are something everyone can see and relate with. While Ig does some things that aren’t great, that’s true of all people, and Horns is a story about someone suffering all these burdens who suddenly has a supernatural power and the ability to find out the truth.

Radcliffe furthered this idea more in an interview with Edward Douglas on Shock Til You Drop: “I mean, he’s a good person who does some pretty terrible things throughout the course of the movie, but it is all in the name… that’s the thing. The tension in this movie. Although my girlfriend’s obviously been killed , so there is an element of “who done it” in there. However, the real tension in the film comes when after you find out who it is, it’s about how I’m going to act on that. Am I going to fully let myself be taken by the dark side and just commit to violence and vengeance as the only way out of this? Or will I do what the person whose memory I am actually fighting for would’ve wanted, which is to not let violence beget more violence and, you know, not live with that anger and that hatred inside myself, which is obviously what Merrin would not have wanted for me?”

Horns finds its balance between evil and innocence with its attempt to root everything in human emotion. Whether or not is successful depends on how each individual viewer interprets its meaning, and whether or not they take too seriously (or offensively) the religious undertones.