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THE DJINN (2021) review

May 16, 2021


written by: David Charbonier and Justin Powell
produced by: Carter Armstrong, Ryan Scaringe, and Meghan Weinstein
directed by: David Charbonier and Justin Powell
rated: not rated
runtime: 82 min.
U.S. release date: May 14, 2021 (now playing in theaters, and available on demand and on digital platforms.)


Djinn are supernatural creatures that have been incorporated into the horror genre in recent years, such as Babak Ancari’s “Under the Shadow” in 2016 and Tobe Hooper’s penultimate film, “Djinn” back in 2013. Both of those films were set in different time periods in Western Asia, which makes sense considering the history of Djinn (or “Jinn” as referred to in Arabic), which derive from a pre-Islamic Arabian and Islamic mythology. In “The Djinn” from the writer/director duo of David Charbonier and Justin Powell, the setting here is presumably America, likely Southern California, in a story that takes place solely in one location and primarily in which one young protagonist must fend for himself one evening against a visiting menace. However, despite the title, it doesn’t seem like it ever matters (or is directly noted) that the frightening presence is indeed a djinn.

As legend has it, Djinn typically appear as spirits that prey on those experiencing extreme traumatic emotions such as loss and grief, or find themselves in intense situations in which such emotions surface. Since such experiences are often a part of or at the core of many stories (regardless of genre) it makes sense that djinn have surfaced lately in certain screenplays. In “The Djinn”, it seems like Charbonier and Powell are taking the general concept of djinn and loosely using fitting it into their own tale to add a somewhat different take on the haunted house conceit while paying homage to certain genre movies from the past.




The movie follows a 12-year-old mute boy named Dylan (Ezra Dewey) in 1989 who recently moved into an apartment with his single father, Michael (Rob Brownstein). It’s unclear if Dylan has been mute all his life, but there is this Y-shaped scar from a surgery on his chest, which is evidence that the boy has been through something major in a physical sense, but there are hints of the emotional trauma as well just in the way he carries himself. Dylan doesn’t necessarily act like an ordinary kid his age, but moreso someone who’s experienced or witnessed a great deal of pain too early in life.

One night, Michael has to take on a double shift as a local radio station DJ, leaving the boy home alone with his pager number (a reminder that the story takes place in the late 80s) and an inhaler nearby (of course, whenever an asthma condition is indicated, you know it will play out in some way later on). Before his father leaves for work, Dylan asks him whether or not it’s true if the previous man who lived in their apartment died there. While Michael admits that did occur, he assures there’s nothing to be concerned about, oblivious to the fact that such a confirmation wouldn’t necessarily but his son’s mind at ease about being on his own.

As he explores the low-lit, shadowy apartment, Dylan discovers belongings from the aforementioned previous tenant, including old book called the Book of Shadows. It’s full of ancient spells and descriptions, and definitely the kind of creepy book you’d want to stay away from. One page promises to grant a wish to the reader and with Dylan desiring to have his voice back, he follows the steps of conjuring a spirit that would grant such a request. Of course, Dylan doesn’t notice there are certain conditions of the wish, but it doesn’t take long for him to realize what kind of malevolence he has invited. Dylan will have to overcome his fears and fight off this dark force within the last hour of the day in order to survive and reunite with his father, since it probably feels like forever for the main character.



There’s a palpable morose weight to the story as the movie opens, a mood that lingers throughout the film and it’s a credit to Charbonier and Powell for creating such a feeling. It’s an atmosphere that’s partly because of the new chapter this father and son are embarking on, yet mostly due to Dylan’s memory of his mother (Tevy Poe), who we see whimpering in a dimly lit kitchen with her back to her son. These are scenes witnessed from Dylan’s perspective and to a viewer they could flashback memories or haunted visions. Because she plays such an important part in this evening, it would’ve been nice to know a bit more about who she was, but she instead winds up primarily a triggering specter.

While certain horror elements are amped up in the story’s second act, “The Djinn” is a bit more selective and patient with how they are employed. Sure, there are some jump scares and other devices of the genre, but primarily what stands out overall is how the single location was utilized and how cinematographer Julián Estrada strategically worked with the directors to create a claustrophobic environment come to life. Sound also plays a key factor considering Dylan does not speak and it’s used in an affective manner,  although parts of the score from Matthew James are a bit too obviously foreboding. The much of the story essentially occurring during the final hour of the day, it is most convincing to makes it seem like feel time passing slowly.



All of this accentuates the feelings of isolation and eventually desperation that has to be conveyed by Dewey’s Dylan is tasked with. It’s not an easy task to carry an entire film, but the actor communicates enough for us to connect with while the movie’s atmosphere does most of the heavy lifting. As far as how the djinn is used in the story, I would’ve preferred to have had a better understanding of what this thing is capable of and how it haunts humans. Not necessarily, why it does what it does, but a bit more insight into the history of this spirit that is summoned. The different ways in which the Djinn presents itself are frightening for a young boy, but never was I frightened by any of these tormentors, and that’s perhaps because knowing that they are the personification of a spirit, the threat was a little lower than if it was a flesh-and-blood pursuer that was threatening the boy.

The film ends on a bit of an unsatisfactory note, but that could also be a matter of preference for each viewer, I just know I felt a little taken out by the traumatic heaviness of it. I’m being purposely vague, similar to how aspects of this story are. “The Djinn” is an absorbing film that clips along at a steady pace, wasting no time getting the plot going, but missed an opportunity to really delve into what from the past and learn what truly haunts the boy in the present.

Nevertheless, I’m quite curious to see the next effort from the directors and that opportunity should come sooner rather than later, since “The Boy Behind the Door” (also starring Ezra Dewey) is another horror thriller coming this July.


RATING: **1/2



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