May 22, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1989, in Burbank. California, the horror film “The Djinn” features a cast of white and Asian characters representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A mute boy, who’s about 11 or 12 years old, finds a spell in an occult book, uses the spell to wish that he could talk, and then horror begins happening to him in his home.
Culture Audience: “The Djinn” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dull horror movies that rip off ideas that many other horror movies have done much better.
The overrated and boring horror film “The Djinn” barely has enough of a story to put in a short film. Instead, it’s an 82-minute repetitive and derivative slog with a bland, poorly written plot. It’s basically a movie about a kid reacting to seeing an evil spirit that shows up in different forms while he’s alone in his home. The problem is that the movie (which isn’t very scary) is lacking in originality, interesting characters and a compelling story.
Written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, “The Djinn” is obviously a very low-budget film, since almost the entire movie takes place in one location (an apartment building in Burbank, California), the visual effects are bottom-of-the-barrel basic, and the very small cast consists of actors who are unknown to the general public. But having a low budget is no excuse for having a low-quality film. The first “Paranormal Activity” movie is a perfect example of an extremely low-budget horror film that was still compelling and terrifying.
In “The Djinn,” which takes place in the summer and fall of 1989, a lonely, mute boy name Dylan Jacobs (played by Ezra Dewey) finds himself caught in his home alone with a demon called the Djinn. Dylan, who’s about 11 or 12 years old, summoned the Djinn when he chanted a spell in an occult book called “Book of Shadows” that he found hidden in the apartment where Dylan and his divorced father Michael Jacobs (played by Rob Brownstein) have recently moved. Dylan’s mother Michelle (played by Tevy Poe) left the family during an unspecified time period. Michael works the night shift as a DJ at a local soft-rock radio station.
In the “Book of Shadows” (even that title is boring), Dylan sees that the spell is part of a ritual that people can do to make a wish come true. Those who go through the ritual must take a lighted candle, put three drops of blood in the candle, chant the spell while looking in the mirror, and then Djinn will appear. Anyone who can survive the Djinn for one hour will have their wish granted. How many times has this “demon conjured up by a spell” plot been used in a horror movie? Yawn.
Not surprisingly, Dylan goes through the ritual because he wants this wish to come true: He wants to be able to talk. Dylan’s father Michael isn’t in the movie very much, because most of the film takes place during the night that Dylan has to survive the Djinn, while Dylan’s father is away at work. This movie is so badly written, it doesn’t answer many questions that come up during the story.
Very little is told about Dylan and Michael. It’s never explained if Dylan goes to school or is homeschooled. Dylan has a Y-shaped scar on his chest that isn’t explained either. Viewers will probably assume that this scar has something to do with Dylan’s voice disability. Michael and Dylan seem to have a loving father-son relationship, but too little of it is seen in the movie to determine what type of family life Michael and Dylan really have.
There’s a scene where Dylan asks his father, “Do you think Mom would have stayed if I wasn’t different?” Michael comforts Dylan by saying, “When we start thinking about things we’re missing, we forget about things we have … You’re perfect the way you are. Never forget that.”
This movie doesn’t go into details over why Dylan’s mother Michelle left the family. However, even before conjuring up the Djinn, Dylan was waking up to visions of seeing his mother sobbing in the candle-lit kitchen, with her back toward him. It’s a vision that keeps getting repeated in the movie until you know what Dylan is going to see when she finally turns around. It’s all so dull and predictable.
The Djinn can shapeshift into many forms. It often comes in the form of black smoke, so it can seep into rooms without being easily contained. During the course of the movie, the Djinn shapeshifts into three human-appearing entities: Dylan’s mother Michelle; the elderly man who was the apartment’s previous resident (played by Donald Pitts); and a 31-year-old escaped prisoner named Norman Daniel (played by John Erickson), who was killed in a hit-and-run accident the night before.
These three human-like manifestations are supposed to represent Dylan’s fears in some way. Dylan obviously has trauma from his mother’s abandonment. When Dylan finds out that the apartment’s previous resident died in the apartment, viewers can assume Dylan has some fear about it because Dylan’s father didn’t know the cause of death when Dylan asked about it. As for the escaped prisoner killed in the hit-and-run accident (which is not shown in the movie), Dylan knew about it because it was reported on the radio.
“The Djinn” rips off some tropes that were used in other, much better horror movies. During various scenes in “The Djinn,” a TV in the living room turns on randomly, with only static on the screen. That’s straight out of 1982’s “Poltergeist.” And there are repetitive scenes of Dylan trapped in a bathroom, with the Djinn on the other side trying to break down the door down, as Dylan frantically tries to shut the door. It’s filmed very much like Shelley Duvall’s famous “trapped in a bathroom” scene in 1980’s “The Shining,” with Jack Nicholson portraying the killer on a rampage.
And there are things in “The Djinn” that don’t make sense at all. There’s a scene when the Djinn is chasing Dylan, and Dylan breaks his ankle during the chase. The injury is severe enough that bone is jutting out of the ankle. But then, in later scenes in the movie, there’s no sign of Dylan having an injured ankle at all.
There’s a scene where Dylan picks up a phone to call for help, even though he’s supposed to be mute. It’s possible that it was a phone for hearing-impaired/mute people, but there’s no indication of that because it looks like a regular phone. In 1989, phones for hearing-impaired/mute people had clunky equipment attached, which isn’t seen in this movie. It’s just more sloppy screenwriting and careless directing on display.
The movie’s ending is a very predictable and disappointing dud. And viewers will more likely end up feeling bored instead of feeling terrified after all the unimaginative scare tactics that are in the movie. As the young protagonist Dylan, Dewey is in every scene in “The Djinn,” and he does a pretty good job of looking afraid. But frightened reaction expressions aren’t enough to make a good horror movie. The 1990 comedy film “Home Alone” has more suspense than this forgettable horror flick.
IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “The Djinn” in select U.S cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 14, 2021.