One of the most fascinating elements of the horror genre is that of the fantastic; the inspiration to have a magical or otherworldly influence play a part in the telling of a story, and in the case of The Djinn, this is done to an effective, albeit shoestring-at-times horror flick that will sure to please those looking for a simplistic, yet unnerving thrill.
Dylan Jacobs (Ezra Dewey), a mute pre-teen, is left alone by his Father (Rob Brownstein), and upon discovering a mysterious book which gives instructions for granting wishes, Dylan begins to conjur up a powerful being in the hopes of having his wish to speak granted. Strange things begin to quickly take effect, and Dylan is left alone to deal with the harsh realities of his choices as well as surviving an hour of the night. The Djinn is absolutely at it’s best when it works towards revealing it’s greatest elements, the Genie itself, which slowly unveils through flickering electronics and a changing atmosphere. While this may sound typical, it is how well these moments are executed that make a difference, and these are when the film succeeds. This film is clearly on a budget, so do not expect any elaborate effects or anything massive to take place; this is very much a grounded movie which takes place primarily in one location. The single greatest element of The Djinn is the performance by Ezra Dewey, who conveys such a strong level of innocence, while also not giving into anything that would make the character annoying. It is an incredible feat given how little he is purposely given to work with. The second being the intrigue feel from the inclusion of a Genie, as this really has not been seen since the original Wishmaster (1997).
The trope of “be careful what you wish for” storytelling has become redundant, particularly in the horror genre itself. With films such as Body Heat (1981), and Wish Upon (2017) being particularly snooze-inducing at time, the tales of genie’s and otherworldly witchcraft or dark magic have never truly found a footing. Had The Djinn decided to play further into the wacky and inherent weirdness that the film hinted at, this could have at least made a more impressionable impact. That is not to say The Djinn is boring by any means, it certainly plays to it’s strengths when given the opportunity, it just does not service itself enough to create an identity. The Djinn is the second-feature following the debut of Wirter/Director Duo David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s The Boy Behind The Door. There are many moments in the film that establish themselves without any real payoff such as the mystery surrounding the home’s previous owner or the powers of The Genie itself. You may be left asking more questions than the film answers, and not in the best of ways. This is a particular extension of The Genie, as it does not have any given rules by which the film can follow. Themes such as Dylan’s abandonment issues as a result of his mother or other forms of childhood trauma are brought to the forefront by The Genie, but never truly explores them. The other odd inclusion was the timeline, choosing this film to be set 1989 just felt like an aesthetic choice, done as “trend” than a creative one. It is fine, just felt strange given the lack of reasoning behind it.
There are moments that will certainly make audiences jump; with an acute eye for shots that linger, Charbonier and Powell do create an atmosphere that is creepy, thus making jump moments far more effective. The soundtrack by Matthew James is certainly interesting, with unique tones between Dylan and The Genie. The cinematography by Julian Estrada, for what it is, is also well crafted and provides the film with a better sense of life. The Djinn benefits heavily from a crew that worked very hard with very little, and it pays off more often than not.
While not perfect, and certainly one that at times may fall under it’s own weight, The Djinn is an excellent feature-debut for David Charbonier and Justin Powell. A well-crafted, low-budget thrill ride that will have you rooting for a relatively sympathetic lead, in an otherwise unforgiving world that is created. Creepy and foreboding imagery make the most of the film’s 82-minute runtime, and it will be interesting to see what the duo creates next.
Score: 7.5 / 10.