Some people may not know what a djinn is, but horror movie buffs certainly do. These paranormal figures are able to take the form of a human or an animal. They have fueled plenty of scary films over the years, and do so once again in the appropriately-titled The Djinn. This is a small-scale, yet wildly effective picture that grounds its horror moments in a story that has emotional value. Filmmakers David Charbonier and Justin Powell have delivered something special.
A mute twelve-year-old named Dylan (Ezra Dewey) and his father Michael (Rob Brownstein) have just moved into a new apartment following the death of his mother. Dad is employed as an overnight disc jockey, so Dylan has to be home alone after dark. While poking around the new digs one night, the kid discovers a mysterious book, presumably left behind by a previous tenant. Inside is a set of instructions that, if followed, will grant a person their wish. Of course, that comes with a cost. Dylan carries out the instructions – there'd be no movie if he didn't – and suddenly a djinn is summoned. Over the course of a terrifying night, he must confront the entity he's unleashed before it can steal his soul.
I have to be careful what I say because The Djinn goes in absorbing directions best left discovered organically. The suspense comes from witnessing this young boy left to fend for himself in a reasonably confined space. He's naïve; the being stalking him most certainly isn't. And since he's mute, calling for help isn't an option. Youthful resourcefulness is the one thing Dylan has on his side. The whole point of the movie is that the entity has identified the boy's weakness, seeking to exploit it. We sit nervously, hoping he'll recognize the otherworldly manipulation before it's too late.
Charbonier and Powell make great use of a small apartment. At every second, The Djinn radiates a claustrophobic vibe. There really isn't anywhere for Dylan to go. Survival only comes by facing his tormenter head-on. A confrontation in the cramped bathroom is particularly nerve-rattling, as is a sequence where Dylan gets cornered in the tiny kitchen area by the creature. A main reason why certain horror movies fail is because we know the characters have places they can escape to. Here, Dylan is limited in his options. He's a fish in a bowl, easily accessible to a malevolent spirit. If that doesn't make you bite your nails, nothing will.
Ezra Dewey is a real find. Few young actors could have pulled off this role. He carries the film like a seasoned pro. As the plot progresses, we learn things about Dylan's past and the reason for his non-verbal status. Although you won't necessarily anticipate how it gets there, you can probably surmise the main way the djinn tries to get to him. That is the heart of the movie, as his mother's passing is the boy's inner demon. Dewey authentically brings all of that out – with no dialogue, I might add -- adding a layer of depth to the story.
At eighty-two minutes, The Djinn is relatively short, meaning a few minor details here and there might have been expanded upon. Still, the movie is a nifty little chiller, told from a grieving child's POV. Thanks to ingenious use of the setting and a stellar performance from its young star, it sinks its hooks right into you.
out of four
The Djinn is rated R for some disturbing violence. The running time is 1 hour and 22 minutes.