2 Sep 2021
David Charbonier & Justin Powell
David Charbonier & Justin Powell
Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, Tevy Poe
Forget about magic lamps, blue skin, or improv-comedy – David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s The Djinn is a terrifying and tense story of a wish-granting spirit with some serious terms and conditions attached.
Dylan (Ezra Dewey) is a young boy who lives alone with his father Michael (Rob Brownstein). Dylan is mute, and is dealing with a traumatic experience involving his now-absent mother 9 months earlier. When he uncovers an ancient book, he finds within it a spell which will summon a Djinn - who will grant him one wish. In his haste, he wishes for a voice. But little does he know, this Djinn does not grant wishes freely – one must survive one full hour against its magical and vindictive power, or risk being dragged into a shadowy world.
The Djinn is an impressive horror which brings some interesting ideas to the table but runs out of momentum as it progresses. The film’s 80s setting follows an ongoing media trend popularised by the likes of Stranger Things and It, and the film’s early stages makes great use of this aesthetic with a vibrant score and learned homages to 80’s style cinema. The film could have stood out amongst the trend with its’ home-based survival setting – however these retro elements are largely dropped as the plot develops in favour of basic horror cliches – which are executed just fine, but do little to make the film original.
The film’s uses horror and tension very well, and the directors deserve praise for resisting the growing temptation amongst filmmakers to overload on the gore in favour of more impactful use of violence when required. The danger is amplified by the youth of the film’s star Ezra Dewey, and viewers will be on the edge of their seat as the Djinn stalks him through the house. The film also makes great use of the fact that both predator and prey are mute – with barely a word spoken outside of the opening and conclusion. There is an exposition-heavy narration which becomes necessary for the plot’s sake, but the film is at its scariest when the Djinn’s pursuit of Dylan is a terrifying enigma.
The plot is straightforward, though it promises more than it ends up delivering. The concept of a murderous demon challenging its victim to a contest of survival for a life-changing reward is unique, and hints that Dylan may not actually want what he wishes for suggest an absorbing dilemma for the protagonist. However, the film does not really explore these dynamics in favour of a standard pursuit-horror story for the majority of its run, with a twist ending which follows up certain elements but fails to really deliver on what the film sets up as its key messages.
A note should be made of star Ezra Dewey, whose performance as Dylan is thankfully strong and authentic – avoiding a downfall of so many child-led horror stories. Dylan is vulnerable and powerless against the Djinn, but his resourcefulness and intuitiveness upon which he relies upon to survive are portrayed brilliantly. Given the character does not speak, Dewey’s ability to portray him so well entirely physically is doubly impressive.
The Djinn is entertaining enough and provides a suitable horror experience, but some missed opportunities to really explore a fascinating dynamic prevent it from living up to its potential.
In Cinemas and on Digital Friday 17th September.