‘The Djinn’: A strong second-half performance makes up for a slow start

The Djinn (2021) - IMDb

The Djinn (2021)

Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell

If the poster above–with its walk-in closet putting off a ghostly glow–reminds you of “Poltergeist,” you’re not alone. And a djinn (or jinn), in Arabic mythology, is a similar apparition that can possess the body of a living thing. But in “The Djinn,” the hideous ghost has darker intentions than anything we saw in Spielberg’s classic film.

Dylan (Ezra Dewey) has always dreamed of being a “real boy” like Pinocchio, but he’s been missing something since birth–his voice. His loving father (Rob Brownstein), a radio DJ, works nights, leaving Dylan alone in the small apartment they recently moved into. One night, when Dylan finds a “Book of Shadows” in the closet, he reads about a genie that can grant him one wish. So Dylan wishes he was no longer mute. But his wish comes with a price–a soul-eating genie, or djinn, that traps Dylan in his apartment and dares him to survive for one hour. Only after surviving can he earn his greatest desire.

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For the first thirty minutes, I thought maybe “The Djinn” would have been better off as a short film. There wasn’t much meat on the bones. We don’t learn much in that time that couldn’t have been condensed considerably. But as the movie continues, I found more to like. Once the djinn enters the home, we spend almost a full hour in real-time with Dylan as he tries to outwit the demon. I might have still felt the same, that “The Djinn” could have shaved off fifty minutes, had it not been for Ezra Dewey’s fine performance. Even without many lines (only a few signed in ASL to his father), Dewey was able to sell the fear and desperation as he confronts this horrifying demon…and his own personal demons (including those brought about by his mother’s death).

The film wouldn’t have worked half as well if the djinn itself wasn’t horrifying. It takes multiple bodies and sometimes looks like nothing but a cloud of smoke, but every iteration is more frightening than the next (seriously…wait until the end). The actors portraying the djinn are creepy without being too cheesy. The makeup and design teams helped make nightmare fodder. It was all pulled together perfectly.

Though I still wish the film’s first half-hour could have felt a little more substantial, I ultimately came around and would recommend “The Djinn” to anyone needing a horror fix. With the new release schedule as light as it is, those jonesing for terror can find peace in this spooky tale.

6.5/10

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