May 27, 2021 The Djinn (Movie Review)
This is no genie in a bottle, baby! The brand new Horror offering The Djinn arrived to select theaters, as well as Digital/VOD, on May 14, 2021 thanks to IFC Midnight.
Written and directed by talented best friends David Charbonier and Justin Powell, the men responsible for the 2015 short film Secret Admirer as well as 2020’s The Boy Behind the Door, The Djinn is a superb entry into the supernatural subset of Horror. Starring the exceptional Ezra Dewey (Everything Before Us 2015, Criminal Minds: Without Borders series), this story takes place in the span of one sinister night.
There is definitely a lesson to be learned by 12-year-old Dylan (Dewey), a mute boy who is still grieving the loss of his mother when he and his father (Rob Brownstein: Bosch series, Mom series) relocate. As he begins to acquaint himself with his new surroundings, he unearths a mysterious old book from his closet. As these things tend to go in the world of Horror, not long afterward we find the pre-teen performing a ritual that promises to provide him with his deepest desire—but every gift has a price.
Sounds terribly cliché, right? Well, no. While the story here is not going to break any new ground within the genre, Charbonier and Powell are careful to provide an experience that takes a simple, minimalistic tale and elevates it to new heights. Working within the confines of one apartment, over the course of just a few hours, their tale of grief is careful to use its limitations to its advantage rather than destroying itself with grandiose ambition.
This means that, while The Djinn is a ‘wish gone wrong’ scenario (“The gift that you seek may cost your soul”), its creators are very careful to avoid the obvious; passing on expected jump-scares and instead choosing to build tension by toying with the audience’s emotions. Which is another thing about the film: there is a heavy underlying theme of trauma. Survivor’s guilt, how we process our grief, and the psychological impact of that trauma are all recurrent concepts embedded within the screenplay, giving The Djinn a smart edge.
Dewey, too, is an exceptional asset to the film’s success, and his performance is definitely a game-changer for his young career. The demands on the actor are lengthy, as he is tasked with communicating the fear and uncertainty of youth, along with the heartbreak of losing a parent, all while battling the otherworldly with asthmatic lungs. Oh, and he never says a word. In this, the talented actor offers up a new hero: a young man who is crafty, intelligent and determined, all despite his psychological frailty. Not just another victim, but a very real and relatable figure, Dylan refuses to go down without a fight, which is apt to inspire other struggling teens to up their game in the face of adversity.
There are, of course, some concepts that fail to achieve their full potential—such as the special effects makeup on Tevy Poe (What Love Looks Like 2020, Redwood Massacre: Annihilation 2020)—but the cast works around these minor issues, instead focusing on their strengths. For Poe, that’s her feline grace as she haunts poor Dewey. For Brownstein, who does not have the same amount of screen time as his co-stars, there’s his perfectly soothing voice that is tailor-made for narration (and radio). Equally talented, John Erickson (Sexually Frank 2012, Checkmate short 2019) gives an understated performance that is freaky enough to make moviegoers think twice before pursuing their deepest wishes.
And like all great Horror films, The Djinn’s score plays a pivotal role in its success. Matthew James’ (Black Lightning series, Arkansas 2020) homage to the 1980s and the work of John Carpenter is, much like the film itself, brilliantly subtle. In this, one might say that much of the film is cut from a similar cloth to the equally minimalist Horror offering The Vigil (2021). Also a tale of grief, but now blended with a child’s fertile imagination, Charbonier and Powell’s latest offers a respectful nod to classic Horror; using minimal CGI or predictable gambits, they instead opt for manipulating the shadows to provide a practical yet still eerie effect.
Sure, The Djinn does not not dance around a Maypole to turn the entire genre on its head, but it’s a good movie; an enjoyable one. Achieving maximum efficacy by limited means, all while offering something worthwhile to the supernatural subset, it is, at the very least, better than many of the vapid, big budget offerings out there. (No, Ari Aster, we don’t mean you!) For its artful storytelling, outstanding acting, and the world’s creepiest ceiling fan, Cryptic Rock gives The Djinn 4 of 5 stars.