THE DJINN (2021)

Greetings again from the darkness. Some of the best horror films are low-budget affairs, and David Charbonier and Justin Powell fully embrace this concept. As with their previous collaboration (THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR, 2020), the production company partners are co-writers and co-directors on this latest – an effective “legend” thriller that plays like a live-action campfire story.

Ezra Dewey stars as 12 year old Dylan Jacobs, a mute boy who moves into an apartment with his dad (Rob Brownstein) after a tragic incident on “a quiet summer night in 1989” leaves Dylan without a mother. Dad works the graveyard shift as a disc jockey, so Dylan is left alone their first night in the new place. Dylan discovers a leather-bound “Book of Shadows” in the closet. Left behind by the previous owner – an old man who died in the place – the book has a chapter, “Wish of Desire”, which especially appeals to Dylan, who would love to have a “voice”.

As one would expect from a 12 year old, and just about anyone at any age, he doesn’t read the fine print in the book, and immediately prepares to perform the spell. All he needs is a couple drops of blood, some candles, a clock and a mirror. The only question is whether the spell will work with sign language. By this time, we’ve also learned that a previous lung operation has Dylan dependent on his inhaler when he’s stressed – something we horror fans recognize is going to happen not long after he lights that candle.

Of course this is no genie-in-a-bottle granting wishes. Nope, Dylan soon learns it’s a supernatural being that takes the form of those already dead – some Dylan recognizes and some he doesn’t. The Djinn is the “guardian of the shadow realm” and the challenge for Dylan is to stay alive until midnight while the entity tries to end him. What makes the film click is the performance of young Ezra Dewey. He carries the film on his back while, obviously, dialogue is not an option. Having a clever and quick-thinking young protagonist gives us someone to root for. The filmmakers wisely stage this confrontation within the confined space of this small apartment. DP Julian Estrada does excellent work and never resorts to trickery – we understand the floorplan and always know where Dylan is at any moment.

The 1980’s vibe is present via a boom box, phone cord, TV with antennae, dad’s pager, and composer Matthew James’ synth score. There is also the interesting contrast of Dylan’s inability to speak, and the Djinn spending much of the time without sight. The filmmakers take a simple approach to the story (the legend) and let Dylan fight his way to midnight as we squirm (and yes jump a couple of times). It’s a brisk 80 minute runtime and one that most horror film fans will appreciate, despite the cruel twist.

Opening in select theaters and VOD on May 14, 2021


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