While vampire folklore is common in horror, the djinn, or jinn, has made scant appearances. If you grew up in the 90s and love B-movies, there’s a good chance you enjoyed Wishmaster. But the low-budget monster movie, and its three straight-to-video sequels, didn’t offer the evil genie much of a spotlight. Persian horror movie Under the Shadow garnered more critical praise. And now a still COVID-limited release schedule puts the genie front row and center of an American horror movie in The Djinn. While it risks falling under the radar, critics seem overwhelmingly impressed.
Several months after tragically losing his mother, a mute Dylan Jacobs and his father, Michael, move to a new house to start over. When Michael leaves him home alone to go to work, Dylan finds an old mirror and dusty book of spells. One of the spells details how to summon a djinn to grant one’s wish. Despite the warning that your wish comes with dire consequences, Dylan performs the ritual. Now trapped alone, the djinn stalks Dylan through the darkened halls of the house.
The Djinn Casts a Spooky Claustrophobic Spell
At first glance, The Djinn looks like a standard PG-13 horror movie. In fact, it’s actually an R-rated feature and avoids the generic trappings of past lukewarm efforts like Polaroid or Wish Upon. From writer and directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell, The Djinn is a surprisingly well-paced, tense outing. Little time is wasted on backstory or extensive mythology. Charbonier and Powell use an eerily lit prologue along with nightmare flashbacks to hint at the fate of Dylan’s mother. Sometimes the threadbare storytelling works to the movie’s advantage. Only a visible scar, for instance, gives us a clue about the origins of Dylan’s muteness. However, the presence of the mirror and book of spells in a suburban household’s closet feels pretty convenient. Ultimately, it’s a plot hole that doesn’t hurt the movie.
The result is a claustrophobic game of cat-and-mouse that generates a fair amount of suspense.
Where The Djinn distinguishes itself is in its approach to its scares. Charbonier and Powell make a few smart creative decisions. First, The Djinn isolates Dylan is a single setting and isn’t afraid to put their young protagonist in danger. The result is a claustrophobic game of cat-and-mouse that generates a fair amount of suspense. Second, The Djinn relies more on silence than jarring sounds or jump scares. There’s a handful of disturbing images that should unnerve audiences. Lastly, Charbonier and Powell’s decision to have its djinn take on the appearance of people from images it finds in the house
Young Actor’s Strong Performance a Highlight
Though it never unravels The Djinn nearly descends into a bit of an X-Files episode retread. Charbonier and Powell’s final twist – which does pay off the movie’s warning – doesn’t fully hit its mark. In part this stems from some cheap looking effects. For most of the movie, The Djinn avoids exposing any budgetary limitations. But it’s climax stretches those limitations almost risking a hokey conclusion. Fortunately, there’s still a pathos to the ending that’s in keeping with the movie’s tone. With its 80s setting, Charbonier and Powell also get to channel Stranger Things with a creepy synth score.
For the vast majority of its runtime, The Djinn tasks Dewey with carrying the movie.
Arguably, Ezra Dewey’s performance is a big part of the reason why The Djinn’s conclusion still works. For the vast majority of its runtime, The Djinn tasks Dewey with carrying the movie. The fact he does so with no dialogue only makes his work that much more impressive. Much of the movie’s tension carries from Dewey’s ability to convey desperate fear. Moreover, Dewey’s performance makes Dylan a likable character, thereby increasing the movie’s tension as The Djinn increasingly puts him in danger.
The Djinn Exceeds Expectations and Delivers Tight Chills
Even with a familiar premise, The Djinn exceeds expectations with a lean, surprisingly tense execution. Whether it’s Dewey’s performance, the 80s synth score, or its use of a quiet, atmospheric scares, The Djinn mostly nails it from start to finish. Things nearly derail at the conclusion, but Charbonier and Powell maintain a firm grasp on the material. The end result is a surprisingly effort that deserves a wider audience.