Writer/director duo David Charbonier and Justin Powell know how to get straight to the point without extracting any key elements that comprise an entertaining horror film. Their debut film The Boy Behind the Door was a terrifying and realistic depiction of friendship withstanding a traumatic childhood abduction. This year, the talented pair push the envelope with their sophomore film, The Djinn, by exploring guilt and familial love through a supernatural framework.
Primarily known as a genie, a djinn is an otherworldly creature that grants wishes to whomever awakens the vengeful spirit. However, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and a djinn tends to be a nefarious trickster. Many genre fans will remember this folklore from the Wishmaster series or from Tobe Hooper’s unfortunate flop back in 2013 simply entitled, Djinn. Charbonier and Powell summon a successful interpretation of the evil antics audiences have grown accustomed to but counterbalance evil with an innocent heart and familial love that is lacking within its cinematic predecessors.
The Djinn takes place over a single evening. One hour, in fact. Dylan Jacobs (Ezra Dewey) and his father Michael Jacobs (Rob Brownstein) have just moved into a new apartment. It’s just the two of them and Michael has to immediately work a double at the local radio station. As they are unpacking and exploring their new home, Dylan finds an antique full-length mirror in his closet along with a weathered book detailing various incantations and details about the shadow world. Naturally, being a curious pre-teen, Dylan decides to conduct a ritual in order to make a wish. Heartbroken from a family tragedy, he possesses an immense amount of guilt and struggles to accept his vocal affliction of being mute. However, despite his insecurities, his father is loving and supportive.
Once Michael departs for work, Dylan begins the ritual and then goes about his evening. Independent despite his young age, he realizes someone or something is in the apartment with him. At first, the terrorizing consists of electronic devices playing tricks on him, but then the attack escalates and the djinn takes on the appearance of the dead in order to sustain the Earthly realm in hopes of acquiring Dylan’s soul. With only one hour until certain doom, Dylan has to find ways to fight off the creature when the normal realm of physics and biology do not entirely comply. All the while, Dylan experiences painful flashbacks of his mother (Tevy Poe) and how he could not stop her from leaving him and his father. Facing down evil as well as his own personal guilt and trauma, Dylan has to learn the hard way what his dad tells him all along: don’t focus on what you don’t have because you miss what you do have right in front of you.
Dewey is captivating as Dylan and is able to successfully draw audiences in the entire length of the film despite its minimal dialogue and small, one-setting location. Watching Dylan wander throughout the two bedroom apartment trying to avoid an asthma attack and figuring out how to safely make his way back to his inhaler is intense stuff, making full use of performance and camerawork. Through his wheezing, wide-eyed fear and tears, Dewey’s performance is razor sharp and hooks viewers from start to end. To counterbalance the silence, a unique use of synths are utilized by composer Matthew James. The creature effects are also fantastic and while there are some obvious CG elements, they do not take away from the experience. The djinn’s shapeshifting abilities are a wise decision not only on a small budget scale, but also work well with practical effects and make-up application.
Childhood fears and traumas are on full display through Dylan’s experience, and they convey a refreshing resiliency within a compact narrative. Suspenseful, sinister and bittersweet, The Djinn is a cut-throat example of how effective horror can be with succinct decisions around dialogue and theatrics. Charbonier and Powell can clearly captivate genre fans with stories rooted in both reality and fantasy, which speaks volumes towards their own cinematic power.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10
The Djinn in in theaters and on VOD today.
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