From the Archives: The Djinn review

From the Archives: The Djinn review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on MovieJawn.

At the center of The Djinn, a single location supernatural spooker, is an uncommonly compelling performance from a child actor tasked with carrying the entirety of an emotionally taxing story on his young shoulders. Ezra Dewey is his name, here playing Dylan Jacobs, a mute child in a single parent household, who gets into serious trouble by innocently conjuring a malevolent supernatural force.

A few months prior to the start of the film, Dylan’s mother died, leaving him and his father (Rob Brownstein) in a state of mourning. The grieving duo have decided to start fresh by moving to a mew apartment in a new neighborhood. Beyond their recent loss, things are perpetually hard for Dylan and his father. Friends are hard to make when you don’t have a voice, and bills are hard to pay when you’re feeding two on a sole income. Still, there’s a palpable feeling of love between our two leads, and the sense that they’ll be okay, whatever troubles may arise, is very strong. Tonight, for the first time since moving into their new home, Dylan will be spending the evening alone while Dad goes to work as an overnight DJ on a local radio station.

All of the details are worked out, and both of our protagonists are expecting a smooth, low-key evening. Dad even tells Dylan to tune in at a certain time for a special on-air shout out. Left to his own devices, however, the curious Dylan stumbles across a book of spells left behind by the apartment’s previous owner. One spell in particular, called the “Wish of Desire” catches Dylan’s eye. Could something as simple as a wish solve all of his problems? Perhaps…

The spell indicates that any wish can be granted through the summoning of a djinn. For those who don’t know/haven’t seen Wishmaster, “djinn” is just a fancy name for a genie. But the lovable, blue Robin Williams character it is not. A djinn can make your wildest dreams come true…but there’s always a catch. Always.

And really, you should seek out Wishmaster. It’s a lot of fun.

The bulk of the film is the fallout from Dylan’s decision to summon the titular djinn, which takes the form of an extended cat and mouse sequence set entirely within a tiny location. Almost immediately the mood is incredibly spooky. Writers/directors Justin Powell and David  Charbonier do a fantastic job of setting up the geography of the apartment and using a smooth, fluid camera to act as a rather intuitive fly on the wall. Since our main character is unable to speak, there’s little by way of dialogue for the story to lean upon. Instead, everything must be shown to us visually, with impeccable sound design acting to ratchet up the dread in every moment. The claustrophobia inherent to the setting of a two-bedroom apartment is felt at all times, as it should be, but it’s never at the expense of clarity. If tasked, I could draw a relatively accurate floor plan of the entire apartment from memory. That can’t be said about many films of this kind.

Clocking in at just 82 minutes, The Djinn maintains a pretty consistent level of tension throughout, with a handful of tiny reprieves peppered here and there to make it all bearable. But even with such a short runtime, there are a few points where it becomes evident that this may have worked better as a short film instead of a feature. What I mean to say is that a few sequences feel milked for time, and unnecessarily so. The Djinn could stand to tighten a few of its screws to close the gaps into which the suspension of disbelief occasionally falls. I hate to be the guy who calls out a minimalist horror movie for straying from its own set of established rules, but when it happens here, it’s noticeable. Pointing out that a character — specifically, a child facing a supernatural evil — behaves illogically at times, is a fool’s errand of the highest order, but it’s valid here given that Dylan is so strongly characterized at the outset. His lapses in logic don’t feel like the ignorance of youth, in which case they would make sense, but as a dumb mistake unbecoming of a character who has been shown to be pretty savvy for his age.

All said, these lapses in logic are easy to forgive, given that all are employed to maximize tension, and the tension, as previously stated, remains at a consistent pitch throughout the entire film. The filmmakers’ previous effort, The Boy Behind the Door, also starring Ezra Dewey, has similar logical issues, and although they aren’t as egregious in The Djinn, I am inclined to ask if maybe this is a symptom of a sort of “house style” that I just haven’t shined to yet.

But as I said, my complaints are minimal. The Djinn, more often than not, scared the pants off of me. The creature design is quite upsetting, and the breadth of its powers are the stuff of nightmares. Since all of these terrors are enacted on a handful of characters who are very easy to care about, the horror resonates that much more. Powell and Charbonier are now two for two in the world of high concept/low budget horror. They’ve demonstrated a strong talent for visual storytelling, both in pre and post-production, which speaks to a promising future. When these guys get a budget, they’re going to make something INSANE. Hopefully when this occurs, they’ll be able to fine tune their scripts just a little bit more to really make them sing. That is my wish.

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