Synopsis: A mute boy is trapped in his apartment with a sinister monster when he makes a wish to fulfill his heart’s greatest desire.
Stars: Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, Tevy Poe, John Erickson, Donald Pitts, Jilbert Daniel
Director: David Charbonier & Justin Powell
Running Length: 82 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: I’ll level with you. There have been nights when I’ve been woken up by a noise and I’m convinced there is some sort of supernatural creature in my house. Forget excusing it away as a creaky board or a moaning pipe, and don’t even think of chalking it up to the dozens of scary films I’ve watched in the span of a few months. No, it’s definitely something terrifying that’s come to prey upon me and like a good would-be victim I silently get out of bed, grab the nearest object I can use as a weapon (often a book to hurl) and start to slowly explore every nook and crook of my dwelling until I’m convinced everything is safe and secure. After climbing back into bed and before drifting off to sleep there have been times I’ll think, “Oh man, I’m so glad no one was filming me foolishly sneaking around my own house.”
That’s the story that kept following me around during the 82 long minutes I spent trapped into the confines of The Djinn, a plodding horror film that features a young mute boy who does exactly what I just described. Only in a much smaller space. For a lot longer. Don’t get me wrong, unlike my nighttime adventures that come up with nothing to report, the youngster that carries the entire film on his constantly terrified shoulders is rewarded for his efforts with several nasty scares that are alarming mostly for the screeching music or blaring sound effect that accompanies their appearance. That might be enough to satiate viewers that feed off of these perfunctory jolts, though around the sixty-minute mark they began to simply serve as unappreciated wake-up alarms for me just as I was about to doze off.
Nighttime radio host Michael Jacobs (Rob Brownstein, Argo) and his silent son Dylan (Ezra Dewey) have moved into a new apartment not long after a tragedy took their wife and mother away. Though he still sees his mother Michelle (Tevy Poe) in haunting flashbacks, without a voice to reach out in his dreams, Dylan can’t connect with her to obtain any sense of closure. With dad working an overnight double, Dylan continues to unpack and discovers items left by the previous tenant, including a book with information on spells and, more specifically, the Wish of Desire. Of course, there are warnings tied to the spell and caveats as to how the wish is actually granted, but the pre-teen can’t resist performing a ritual (in American Sign Language, a clever touch) to ask for his voice back.
At first, it appears the rite has failed, and Dylan goes on with his evening dejected but lying in bed later he has one of those moments I mentioned in the beginning. A strange noise rouses him and when he goes to seek out its source the book of spells reveals its true intentions, billowing out a black smoke that harbors The Djinn, a figure from Arabic folklore that acts a type of genie but not one that wants to see the person that rubbed the lamp get healthy, wealthy, and wise. No, this is an evil power that Dylan is now trapped in the tiny apartment with and must outmaneuver for the next hour. If he can avoid being caught by The Djinn and perform the end of the ritual, his wish will be granted. As The Djinn attempts to trick him by taking on different forms and curtailing his escape plans, Dylan tries to outwit an unmatched foe and fight for his soul as the time ticks away.
Writer/directors David Charbonier & Justin Powell have set their film in 1989 for some odd reason, perhaps it was to remove the advances in technology or excuse some of the drab furnishings of the seriously grandmumsy apartment the Jacobs family now calls home. Though it gives credence to a pulsating score of synths and original music from composter Matthew James, it becomes one of several details that feel like a retro grasp to achieve purpose instead of necessity. Even with a handful of admittedly frightening visuals punctuated by skin-crawling creepies that are borrowed almost totally from other films (Insidious comes to mind), The Djinn works overtime to maintain its mood but it’s like trying to keep a balloon at bay with just your pinky.
It takes a strong actor to hold our attention for a long while and while Dewey isn’t bad by any stretch, he runs into trouble with overcompensating for a lack of a speaking voice by turning up the volume on everything else. The eyes get big, the facial expressions elongate wider, the silent scream goes on for longer than necessary. It’s all just a little over the top and spills into silly rather than scary. There’s also a total lack of any kind of bond between father and son which becomes an important piece of the puzzle – hard to accomplish on these short shoots, I know, but the absence of any kind of warmth is off-putting.
Last summer, IFC Midnight kicked off a great run right around this time with their release of The Wretched, becoming one of the first studios to find their groove in the madness around the pandemic. I can see where their acquisition of The Djinn was done with similar thoughts in mind for a tiered release, but it falls far below the high bar they’ve set over the past twelve months. There have been numerous movies made about Djinns or Djinn-esque set-ups (let’s not forget the heinous Wish Upon) and few have found the path to popularity. Don’t count on this lugubrious effort to change that.