In 1997 I fell in love with a horror movie franchise. The Djinn of the Wishmaster franchise reinvented the monkey paw trope in a fun and innovative fashion. That is not to say the Wishmaster movies are good movies. They most definitely are not. I have always viewed the story behind djinns to be fertile territory for a horror movie that took the monster serious. Writer/Director duo David Charbonier and Justin Powell have done just that. The Djinn is a masterclass in single location horror. Simple, terrifying and completely original.
Ezra Dewey is Bringing It
At its core The Djinn explores the relationship between a father (Rob Brownstein) and his son (Ezra Dewey) as they adjust to life without their mother and wife. The son, Dylan, is mute and communicates only through sign language. His hearing is normal but through scars on his chest we learn that his muteness maybe an effect of a congenital defect. Michael works nights as a DJ on a local radio station. He must leave Dylan overnight to work his show. Dylan is at that weird age where he can stay by himself but we as the audience are still a uncomfortable with it. After Michael leaves Dylan uses a book of black magic to conjure a Djinn so that he can finally get his voice back.
As the Djinn fulfils it’s side of the bargain it also demands payment. The payment it seeks? Eating Dylan’s heart. By taking on a variety of corporal forms (including a serial killer and Dylan’s recently deceased mother) the Djinn hunts down Dylan through a tiny apartment which feels both cavernous but also claustrophobic.
This movie revolves around Ezra Dewey’s performance which is so powerful in his absolute silence that as a parent I had to hug my own children afterword. Dylan is both incredibly vulnerable but also fully capable. Its in this weird liminal space that The Djinn really thrives. Our monster is smart but Dylan is smarter, always making intelligent choices and never conceding defeat. The movie treats him as a real kid who is destined to be his own hero. Rather than cramming him into the archetype of the innocent child we see all parts of who he is and who he will become. I expect big things to come from Dewey’s young career.
While the monster takes many forms its the non human smoke creature that proves the most terrifying. The monster feels hauntingly familiar but entirely new. The djinn which feels composed of shadows reflects Dylan’s fears and guilt. In that way The Djinn is a claustrophobic journey into our own childhood nightmares. As children our own homes feel impossible large but often confine us, especially when our parents aren’t home. Each dark closet contains a monster. Each door to the outside must remain locked, keeping us safe from the very real threats from outside but also preventing us from escaping the threats from within.
The Music of The Djinn
The use of 80’s style synthesizer to augment the soundtrack offers a whimsy that makes it easier to watch. The Djinn offers an intense cat and mouse game between a supernatural evil hell bent on eating a kids heart and the kid who desperately wants his mom and his voice back. It has the potential to be too intense for a lot of folks. The music along with the relationship between dad and son help take the sting out of potentially traumatic moments. The ending offers a trigger warning warranted final act that examines what happened to Dylan’s mom. I wasn’t surprised but man did it hit me like a ton of bricks.
It is no wonder that IFC Midnight has already picked up The Djinn. It has all the hallmarks of what makes horror special. It’s single location and minimal but creative use of special effects makes its production budget relatively small. However, its emotional impact is massive. The Djinn is the future of horror not just in standout performances by its young featured actor but in its ability to craft stories that stay with us long after we have watched them.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.