Sophomore director/writer pair Justin Powell and David Charbonier follow their impressive debut feature The Boy Behind The Door (2020) with The Djinn.
We are introduced to Dylan (Ezra Dewey), who has recently moved into a new home with his father (Rob Brownstein). Dylan has no voice, and though he can hear, he and his father communicate using sign language. Dylan discovers some mysterious items hidden in a wardrobe in his new home. When his father leaves for work, he uses them to attempt to repair what he sees as the cause of he and his fathers shared trauma.
The Djinn is a taut, tense, and effective horror film. Running at only 80 minutes it feels incredibly snappy and takes virtually no time in launching us into the scares. The new home setting works well, providing large open areas of negative space that draw the eye into the background as we search for danger.
There is a real feel of Powell and Charbonier cutting their teeth here. They are practicing and refining their skill by doing what they know works. Most of what is on screen is unlikely to be new or something we haven’t seen before. However, despite the multiple moments of derivation, it still feels fresh and well put together. There is much to enjoy, and while many filmmakers would lean heavily on jump scares for this type of film, here they are few and far between. There is minimal gore or anything particularly exploitative. Tension is paramount, and it is very well realised. The familiarity in the cinematic language works to increase the tension, the audience knowing what the scene is building to. This may add a certain amount of predictability but as Hitchcock used to say, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it”.
Ezra Dewey ties the film together with an excellent performance. Of course, due to his character being voiceless there is minimal dialogue. This forces him to rely on his facial expressions and physicality. He does this seemingly effortlessly, suggesting that he has a bright future. The 1989 setting both adds credibility to the lack of communication between boy and father throughout his ordeal, but also allows for a charming electronic soundtrack. The music flows neatly between moments of levity and pounding base notes as the fear escalates. This fear becomes relentless as time goes on, and we are barely given time to recover before we are launched headfirst into another tense scene. The Djinn is brilliantly unsettling.
The Djinn does have some issues relating to the derivation that may frustrate some viewers. There are also some slightly messy and under-developed themes that could have perhaps benefitted from an extended runtime. It feels like they are practicing, suggesting that these filmmakers are really beginning to hone their craft. If they can come up with something a bit more original for their next film, it has the potential to be something special, but for tension alone, The Djinn really delivers.
The Djinn is being released in cinema’s and digitally on September 17th.