A young mute boy wishes he could have a voice. In an attempt to make his wish come true, he conjures an evil entity that wants his soul. The boy must survive a night alone in his apartment with this entity or suffer dire consequences.
The Djinn is the sophomore feature film of writing-directing duo David Charbonier (The Boy Behind the Door) and Justin Powell (The Boy Behind the Door). The film takes place over the course of a single night in the late 80’s. A boy and his father move into a new apartment and his dad has to leave to work a night shift. Left to his own devices, the boy uses a spell book he found hidden in the apartment to try and grant his greatest wish, to have his own voice. Unfortunately, this spell brings forth an ancient entity known as a djinn. If the boy can survive the night, then the djinn will grant his wish. But if he doesn’t, then the djinn will take his soul. This relatively simple plot allows for a tight supernatural thriller that is a great gateway film for younger audiences just breaking into the horror genre. Although, more seasoned audiences might be left wanting more from the film.
The plot of The Djinn has some really great elements, as well as some underdeveloped aspects. Immediately this horror film stands out because it focuses on a young boy and his widower father. Most horror films involve single mothers rather than single dads, so this is a nice change of pace. While it’s clear the son is still mourning the loss of his mother, it is also clear there is an incredibly strong bond between father and son. With the main character being mute and the film mostly focusing on him being trapped alone in his apartment, there is almost no dialogue throughout most of the film. Despite that, the film still moves at a decent pace and the audience is able to become invested in the events and the young boy’s survival. Having a young protagonist lends to the entry-level horror feel of the film. The filmmakers also take a stab at creating their own mythos around djinn and the “Book of Shadows” found in the apartment. It took the idea of this wish-granting being and altered what fans already know in order to keep them guessing during the film.
The single greatest downside to this film is the underdeveloped plot points. As I mentioned, the filmmakers created their own mythos for the film, but it isn’t fully formed. There is a Book of Shadows, which has Neopagan and Wiccan roots, and a djinn, which is from pre-Islamic Arabian mythology. The two things don’t really go together, and I wish the filmmakers had chosen one mythos to focus on and examine further. It also isn’t quite clear why the book was left in the apartment. It’s established that the previous tenant died in the apartment, so one could assume he died because of a spell that didn’t work out, but instead the audience is left in the dark. Then there is a mystery regarding the boy’s condition. We know he is mute, he has asthma, and a large Y-shaped scar can be seen in his chest. Again, one can make assumptions regarding this. Perhaps he had some kind of birth defect that needed surgery that also caused him to be mute. This lack of further explanation or potential medical inaccuracy likely won’t bother a lot of horror fans. Unfortunately for me, I’m married to a doctor and that has led me to question everything medical in every piece of entertainment I consume. All these pieces of missing information are sure to leave some audiences wishing they had more answers.
While the cast is quite small for The Djinn, each performance stands out. The film is primarily carried on the very capable shoulders of young Ezra Dewey (Criminal Minds, Everything Before Us) as Dylan. Dewey has virtually no lines throughout the entire film, yet his ability to emote immediately endears the audience to his character. Dewey’s performance helps to make Dylan a complex, endearing character audiences will watch and care about his fate. Rob Brownstein (Velvet Buzzsaw, At the Devil’s Door) plays Dylan’s dad, Michael. It is almost impossible not to love Brownstein as Michael. He comes across as such a loving father, plus he’s a radio DJ which gives him extra cool dad points. Dewy and Brownstein may only have a few short scenes together, but they have excellent father-son chemistry on screen. Honorable mention goes to Tevy Poe (What Love Looks Like) who has a small but quite impactful role in the film as Dylan’s mother.
In keeping with the gateway horror vibe, The Djinn emphasizes the child-in-peril aspect of the plot rather than relying on a lot of big scares. For the first glimpses of the djinn, the filmmakers chose to primarily keep the creature in shadow, incorporating black CGI smoke and shadows. From there the djinn takes on more human forms. At first, this feels like a smart, albeit evasive way to avoid blowing the budget on tons of CGI and practical effects. The first couple forms we see the djinn take aren’t necessarily that scary. However, the final form it takes not only delivers more of the scares with the help of practical effects makeup and frightening body movements, but it also has a far more emotionally charged impact on both the viewer and our young hero. Additionally, the plot moves to the beat of a delightful 80’s-inspired electronic score that captures the era of the film.
The Djinn incorporates frightful tension and emotional drama to fill the often overlooked intermediate family-horror space. It is more mature than entry-level horror films for kids while still dialing back the scares enough that younger audiences and their parents alike can enjoy the film. There are aspects of the plot that could have used further development and expansion, but Charbonier and Powell have clearly found a niche subgenre of horror that works for them. The performances are strong, especially from Dewey, and the visual choices help to create real stakes and build suspense. The Djinn is sure to be a great way for adult horror fans to immerse their kids and future generations into the genre.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10