Alexandre Aja has done just about everything there is to do in horror, from realizing his own visions (Mirrors) to rebooting legendary titles (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D), but in an interview in support of his latest film, Horns, he described the Daniel Radcliffe vehicle as something “really, really different.” To be certain Horns, an adaptation of Joe Hill’s cult favorite novel, is not your cut and dry horror flick, and Radcliffe is probably not the guy most imagined sprouting those titular horns on the screen. Over the course of our conversation Aja explained his approach to Horns, his take on horror (and why Horns goes beyond that) and how Daniel Radcliffe convinced him that he is more than just Harry.
Like any good comic book movie, the making of Horns has an origin story.
“I started reading and the book was something that changed, not my life, but it was one of the best I ever read. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading,” Aja said. “The multi-genre aspect of the piece was beyond every expectation. Just turning chapters going from emotional drama to dark comedy to love story to the supernatural. Everything was so well organized that I knew by the end of the book that I had to make this movie.”
Adapting any book is difficult, but attempting to do so with a beloved text that is as unique and complex as Hill’s posed quite a challenge. Fortunately, Aja and screenwriter Keith Bunin had author Joe Hill’s input and support along the way.
“The first idea was to do a pass and be able to find the right structure, and then from there to go back to [Joe] and see what he felt, and he was very helpful all the way. … I think what was really important for Joe was to maintain the tone of the piece,” Aja said. “It would be easy to make it just a crime mystery, or just a thriller. We didn’t. We made something that goes all these different places, that’s really, really different.”
If there is a greater challenge to adaptation than the act of adaptation itself, it certainly must be casting the right actors to bring beloved characters to life. Another key component here is knowing that no selection is likely to please fans immediately and remembering to stand by your choice. Remember all those people who through Jennifer Lawrence was “too blond” to be Katniss? Stepping into the role of an iconic character is certainly nothing new for star Daniel Radcliffe, who certainly got much more flack for his blue eyes as Harry Potter, than the announcement that he was to be Ig Parrish.
“Daniel was definitely an unexpected choice. I knew that Ig Parrish was going to be the most difficult person to cast, and the key of the movie. Daniel read the book, loved the book, knew that I was going to make the movie, came to us and to me and met, and that was a few years back, so I was not sold on him as someone that could go beyond Harry Potter. I love Harry Potter, but that’s just not [like this],” Aja explained. “During that meeting I realized that he was Ig Parrish as a person. He was that romantic, loyal, committed, character and that whole personality made him the perfect choice for the movie… He is such a hard-worker, the most skilled actor I’ve ever met. Whoever sees the movie is going to discover that he does it all… You will realize I think watching Horns that Harry Potter was just the beginning for Daniel.”
Horns had other challenges in store beyond casting. Although it did prove difficult in some ways, Aja recalled that the process of shooting always is, and he’s been in tougher spots before.
“I remember finishing The Hills Have Eyes and saying I will never do something more difficult than shooting in the desert in the summer, the conditions were just like a nightmare. I was really happy with the movie, but it was just miserable conditions. Piranha … looks like so much fun. But, making it was even harder than The Hills Have Eyes, it was just crazy. So, when we did Horns, I was like, okay, this one is going to be easy. Smaller, more contained, more like active dreaming and the crew was amazing, but we had to find so many elements. The weather, the snakes, the forest, nature, quite crazy. It was less difficult than Piranha, but still hard.”
Though he doesn’t see Horns as a true horror film –– it isn’t, it has the tropes and sensibilities of many genres –– Aja credits the genre as an environment that encourages ingenuity in filmmakers, and an ideal proving ground for young directors.
“The genre is the only place where you always…have to use all the tools in your toolbox. Again, the genre plays only in immersion. The goal of the movie has to be to make you forget you are watching a movie and to create that you have to use everything,” Aja explained. “Once you learn that, you can do whatever story you want. There is a reason why Peter Jackson, Spielberg and so many others started in the genre, because you learn there what it takes to make a piece come together.”
Horns is currently in select theaters and on demand.