Much of western horror is based around Christian beliefs of possession, demons, and monsters. Other perspectives on religious horror are almost nonexistent in genre discussions. Until now. With the release of the Jewish possession film The Vigil and now David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s The Djinn, different perspectives, beliefs, and cultures are being shown on American screens. Charbonier and Powell put a Middle Eastern monster in the center of the film in a way that highlights a new kind of monster while remaining accessible to all audiences.
Dylan (Ezra Dewey) is a young boy unable to speak. He and his father (Rob Brownstein) have moved into a new apartment after the suicide of Ezra’s mother. They are trying to pick up the pieces in the face of tragedy. One night, Dylan’s father, a radio DJ, goes in for the late-night shift, leaving Dylan home alone. Once his father walks out the front door, Dylan breaks out a mysterious book he found in his closet and summons a djinn, also known as a genie, to grant his wish. But, before he can get that wish, he must survive one hour with the creature who will do anything to kill him.
The Djinn takes place almost in real-time as we follow Dylan for his entire tension-filled hour navigating a small two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, with only a few limited places to hide. With such a small space, the game of cat-and-mouse with the djinn gets repetitive as they run literally in circles, chasing one another. Charbonier and Powell do find creative ways to use the claustrophobic space as Dewey darts under beds, hides between doors, and utilizes an obnoxious AC unit to distract the monster.
The djinn’s design is phenomenal but unfortunately, it’s barely seen on screen. Instead, the djinn transforms into different humans, from a serial killer on the front page of the newspaper to the previous tenant to Dylan’s deceased mother. The first two transformations don’t necessarily make sense as they have no personal connection to Dylan. The djinn as the mother is the most effective as Dylan must face his own trauma. These three iterations feel like a way to break up the film and provide variety to the repetition. But it leaves you wanting more of the actual monster’s form, which is only shown for a short scene.
In contrast to the uneven djinn, Dewey delivers a consistently stunning performance as Dylan. With no dialogue, Dewey conveys a wide array of emotions through just his facial expressions; he displays skills beyond his age as he really has an understanding of his own physicality and how certain expressions and stances convey a very specific feeling. The camera is almost constantly trained on his face, too, closely following it as he turns the corner and desperately hopes the djinn isn’t waiting for him. His eyes capture the stomach-churning terror of feeling unsafe in your home and trying to reckon with the consequences of your actions.
With the monster, a child in peril, and transforming a home into something monstrous, Charbonier and Powell create a terrifying and tense film that isn’t just meant for adults; it also works as a piece of gateway horror for young fans who are beginning to get into the genre. The Djinn, while on the scarier end of kid-oriented horror films like The Gate, is the perfect film to introduce older children to the beauty and creation of horror films.
The Djinn may be a bit predictable and repetitive, but it still provides an intense and entertaining experience for all ages. Dewey puts on an absolutely incredible performance as Dylan, and Charbonier and Powell work to expand the possibilities of such a tiny space. Most importantly, The Djinn introduces wider audiences to a non-Christian monster that is just as terrifying as any demon.
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