There’s a point in The Djinn where Micheal Jacobs (Rob Brownstein) reads a portion of Carlo Collodi’s 1883’s children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio to his son, Dylan (Ezra Dewey). That passage highlighted Pinocchio’s wish to become a real boy and instead, turning into a donkey instead. Horror movies have highlighted the ‘be careful what you wish for’ motif in previous movies and shows. The Djinn’s supernatural folklore was previously tackled in a series of Wishmaster movies, starting in 1997. A whole concept of wishing for something, but not having any hand in how that it comes to pass provides a pathway for malevolence to happen. Writers/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell have taken that concept and turned it into a nightmarish night for one boy.
Dylan is a mute pre-teen boy who has endured a big tragedy in losing his mother, Michelle (Tevy Poe). He and his father, an overnight radio DJ, move to a small apartment in hopes of a fresh start. In conversation through sign language, Michael hints to Dylan that an old man previously died there a while ago. As Dylan investigates old things in a closet, he finds the Book of Shadows. Within the book, there’s a spell to grant whoever reads it one wish. Of course, with a bunch of caveats. All Dylan wants most in the world is a voice. It’s attached to the personal bout of grief he experiences with his loss. Little does he know, his request would incur trying to survive the night with an entity that can take on any human form.
The Djinn does a phenomenal job in making the most out of the confined setting of a two-bedroom apartment. Even though there is brief space to maneuver, each room or crevice of space is treated with importance. You both feel the claustrophobic and panic in Dylan’s predicament. The entity makes it so that he can’t escape, thus he has to use his surrounding to either hide or injure something infinitely more powerful. The cinematography style of Julian Estrada switches in keeping the camera tight to Dylan’s face to feel his exasperation; then sometimes going wide to heighten the chase scenes. A pure predator/prey dynamic. In what is essentially a movie that has one human character for most of the runtime, Dewey’s performance is the key to making it all work. He goes from scared, exhausted, and slightly brave with just facial expressions and conveys them all well.
Charbonier and Powell combine a lot of what audiences have seen in horror movies before into a tight, nerve-wracking engagement. The story gives you just enough exposition in flashbacks to fill in the traumatic passing of Dylan’s mother and how that affects him. It provided context why he wants the wish so much, even if you know that it’s hard to undo the past. Within a kid’s psyche, they put a lot of blame on themselves. This film sews the emotional and horror aspects together in a way that they don’t intrude on each other. Rather, the themes act complementary in knowing where to let the atmosphere take the lead.
One would think that because there’s a kid that the film would relegate itself to just jump scares and things that go bump in the night. With The Djinn, that’s not the case. Dylan gets injured as this entity is doing all it can to take his life. Not in a way that’s overly gratuitous, but just enough where the audience feels a real risk of peril. There’s a threshold that a child can take, and it’s pushed where the macabre ambiance has that much more weight to it. If there’s anything a horror movie teaches you, it’s not to dabble in things you don’t understand. No matter how good your intentions are, you can’t control the forces that bring them about. Inside a certain amount of time, the film shows you all how it can turn an innocent boy’s pure desire on its ear. The Djinn is the correct amount of ghoulish suspense and an empathetic base to freshen up motifs that the audiences are aware of.
Photo Credit: IFC Midnight