When newly widowed Michael Jacobs (Rob Brownstein) moves into a new apartment with his 12 year-old mute son Dylan (Ezra Dewey), he has to leave the boy alone their first night there for his evening shift as a DJ. Dylan, who believes his handicap contributed to his mother’s death, finds an old book wrapped in burlap and beads on a closet shelf, one which offers the reader their greatest desire if they can spend an hour with “The Djinn.”
Laura's Review: B
Dealing with handicaps or mental issues has long been a theme within the horror genre, from Tod Browning’s “Freaks” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s” paraplegic Franklin to Jack Torrance’s alcoholism in “The Shining” to more recent examples in films like “A Quiet Place,” “Hush” and “Don’t Breathe.” In some, like writer/directors David Charbonier (also production designer) and Justin Powell’s (who also edited) new film, the challenge presented by the horror element can become a form of therapy for the protagonist, a way of confronting a disability. While Dylan proves resourceful fending off the Djinn while he is “Home Alone,” it is his emotional journey dealing with what we will learn was the very traumatic death of his mother (Tevy Poe) that propels the narrative, making the filmmakers’ cynical twist ending a cruel punishment, however faithful to their mythological monster.
The film is most notable for how cinematographer Julián Estrada works in concert with Charbonier’s production design and for the emotional performance arc achieved by young Dewey (who starred in the filmmakers' first feature "The Boy Behind the Door"). Estrada moves with Dylan through the various rooms of a small apartment, always keeping us aware of its layout without it ever feeling too cramped. His impressive camerawork must have required intensive choreography, especially scenes filmed in a small bathroom where ‘human’ arms reaching around the door for Dylan are reflected in the bathroom’s mirror as clawed black appendages (the Djinn takes on the form of the recently dead, like a convict in a newspaper headline (John Erickson) or the old man (Donald Pitts) who left behind the Book of Shadows). And yet the film’s most chilling moment requires stillness as Dylan tries to evade the old man he’s blinded as the ghoul sniffs the air for him.
Powell cuts intermittently to a flashback of Dylan approaching his mother in their kitchen from behind, giving us more and more detail as to just what happened as the film, which largely takes place in real time, progresses. We also hear more and more from the book where Dylan found the ritual (3 drops of blood into a burning candle while standing before a mirror stating your deepest desire) he performed, making us question whether the kid knew just what he was letting himself in for – it is not until the film’s sour ending, for example, that we learn that the Djinn will attempt to grant the requestor’s wish in a way that subverts it.
Ezra Dewey is on camera every moment and the child actor conveys the guilt which drives his desire, his love of his dad and the intelligence which enables him to outsmart several iterations of the djinn, the last of which is easy enough to guess and the most horrifying. “The Djinn” is an effective little chiller, but after its hard won emotional climax, that final twist leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth.
IFC Midnight will open "The Djinn" in theaters and on digital/VOD on 5/14/21.