Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Djinn

As folkloric entities from Arabian and Islamic legend, Djinn[s] are the monster of choice in Middle Eastern horror films (a small but growing corpus). This example is more secular in nature, invoked through occult means, but it is just as dangerous (if not more so). A young mute boy must survive its terrors to earn his “heart’s greatest desire,” but he is not prepared for its sinister and deceitful ways in screenwriter-directors David Charbonier & Justin Powell’s The Djinn, which opens this Friday in theaters and on-demand.

For Dylan Jacobs, it is just him and his soft-rock radio DJ father Michael. What happened to his mother (to be revealed in flashbacks over the course of the harrowing night to come) would be traumatic for any kid. Poor Jacobs must also deal with his muteness and a pretty serious case of asthma. Having just moved to a new apartment, young Jacobs uncovers some of the late prior tenant’s effects, including a Necronomicon-looking occult volume, in which he finds an incantation for invoking a djinn to grant one’s dearest wish. Unwisely, Jacobs conducts the ritual, to ask for a voice, before reading the subsequent pages that explain the djinn’s demonic nature.

It turns out, Jacobs will have to survive an hour of its predatory terrors before he can stuff out the candle and send the evil thing back to its plane of existence. It is a nasty supernatural monster, but while it is here, it is bound by our laws of existence. It is stronger than Jacobs, but it can be hurt.

Set in 1989, the film’s early scenes have a dreamlike vibe that is both nostalgic and disconcerting. However, the father-son dynamic is also genuinely heartfelt. Viewers will buy in quickly, which makes the cat-and-mouse game the djinn plays with young Jacobs so relentlessly intense. In terms of tone and execution,
The Djinn feels a lot like Keith Thomas’s The Vigil, which also used a claustrophobic space, eerie lighting, and a force of utterly unholiness to build an atmosphere of profound dread. Charbonier & Powell’s final twist is easy to guess, but by that time most viewers will be exhausted anyway.

Ezra Dewey and Rob Brownstein are both excellent together as the Jacobs, son and father. Their parental relationship has instant and appealing credibility. The design of the fateful book and other left-behind objects are also definitely creepy. This is clearly an ultra-indie, micro-budget horror film, but in this case, it leads to impressive invention and grounded authenticity.

The Djinn is the best new horror movie since the aforementioned Vigil (mutual distributor IFC Midnight probably wouldn’t disagree). It is relatively short and confined to a single location, but highly concentrated (in a manner Poe himself would approve of). Enthusiastically recommended, The Djinn opens this Friday (5/14) at the IFC Center in New York—and on-demand and digital VOD.