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There were two films released this year and both were the products of writing-directing duo David Charbonier and Justin Powell. Both films, The Djinn released on May 14, 2021, and The Boy Behind the Door just two months later on July 29, 2021, are two very different stories with their own individual atmospheres yet oddly enough they feel like a packaged set. Despite their differences in quality, story, themes, and amounts of passion that went into the productions, you can watch them both back to back and not only see the fingerprints of the pair that made them but you will get the feeling that one is an afterbirth of the first.

This may be a review for The Djinn but I feel that it is impossible to properly discuss it without also discussing The Boy Behind the Door because watching it alone, and then watching it as a companion piece results in two very different opinions. At least, from my perspective. The Boy Behind the Door is perfectly capable of standing on its own and does so with incredible suspense that will keep you clenched tight in your seat the entire time. It is a must-see, but The Djinn isn’t so lucky. The quieter, shorter feature comes off as its experimental half-brother that likes to half-ass its homework until it’s too late to turn it in. Taking on a look, feel and tone of a short film that was designed to be expanded into a feature-length one, a blueprint that never got fully mapped out, it never reaches its full potential and needs its smarter, more focused sibling to help them out.

Despite being released first, The Djinn was actually made after The Boy Behind the Door and yet it’s the one that comes off like first-time filmmakers testing the waters. There is a dreadful atmosphere and tone, with both films revolving around a boy, who is alone for the majority of the runtime, that is forced to deal with a horrible situation that forcibly exposes them to very adult themes but as I said, it never takes what it has and properly runs with it but rather sleepily walks its way through the story until the end credits start to roll.

The Djinn opens with young Dylan, a mute and asthmatic boy, walking in on his mother’s suicide. She’s standing in the kitchen with her backside to him, and only after he realizes what she’s doing, does she turn around and face him. It cuts to black and we jump ahead just a few months later as Dylan and his father are moving into a new home. This right here is the whole focus of the story, so just keep that in mind. While exploring his new home, Dylan finds an old book that offers instructions on granting people’s wishes explaining that a creature called a “Djinn” will appear to grant your deepest desire. Dylan waits until his father goes to work to get busy, and he asks exactly what you’d expect a mute little boy to ask for– he asks for a voice.

When the djinn arrives Dylan finds out that there is a catch to getting what you want. The djinn will only grant you your wish if you can survive one hour in its presence as it viciously tries to kill you. This is why you need to always read the fine print. A fairytale framed in a modern setting, the message can be boiled down to “be careful what you wish for.” There are heavy themes at play that stay way past the line of playing it safe, but I think that really all comes down to the runtime. Coming in at just 82 minutes, there is no room for anything but the plot. No time to diddle dally around, and no time to expand on what could have been some incredible psychological warfare between a boy consumed with guilt over something that wasn’t his fault, and a mythical creature that can literally bend reality.

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I’m actually unsure of how to properly describe my feelings for this film. It’s short, slow but also compact, and features an incredible performance by Ezra Dewey but it never goes anywhere beyond the safe and decent resume builder that it ultimately is. At the same time, I find it impossible to simply cast it aside as a mediocre film. Whether it’s the aesthetics, tone, or the fact that there is actually an incredibly fascinating film somewhere in here, it has struck a chord with me.

Final Verdict

The Djinn is a fascinating movie wrapped inside a constipated one and while I wouldn’t say it’s by the numbers, it’s very predictable. There is a haunting and painful presence that vibrates throughout the whole story that’s amplified by Dewey’s terrified facial expressions, this alone makes it worth a viewing, and the story itself is captivating with room to branch off into many different directions but the way its executed makes it seem like an unoriginal supernatural thriller.

Is this film worth a watch? I’d say yes. I’d recommend it to someone but not to anyone looking for anything other than a slow creeping story accompanied by little to no dialogue. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

Movies n TV

Fallout, The Beginning

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We’ve now reached the end of Fallout, season one. As I mentioned during the last review, I was heartily concerned that this show, like so many others, was going to drop the ball at the finale and ruin an entire season.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. This episode was everything it needed to be and more.

Let’s discuss.

The story

We begin our story with Maximus returning to the Brotherhood of Steel compound. He has a head, which he is claiming is the real head of Wilzig.

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I don’t know why he thought that was going to work.

Of course, it doesn’t. The elder cleric is about to kill Maximus until Dane says that they hurt their foot.

Because of this, the Brotherhood is sent out to get the head. Or rather, what’s inside of it. They head to the city run by Moldaver. This happens to be the same place Lucy and The Ghoul are headed.

Still from Amazon Prime's Fallout.

There, Lucy does manage to find her father. What she ends up finding is so much more than she wanted to find.

What worked

The first thing I have to discuss is how seamlessly the storylines of the series combined.

Each of our four main characters has been on their own journey. Lucy is trying to save her father. Maximus wants to become a knight. The Ghoul wants to find his family. Norm wants to know what’s going on in Vault 31.

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I sure wasn’t expecting all of these stories to come together in the way that they did. And to preserve the ending, I don’t dare say more. I will only say that yes, all four stories tie in perfectly with one another. By the end, two characters end up having the very same goal.

As I hinted before, I did not see the twist ending coming.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Yes, we might have guessed some things from the last episode. We of course guessed that Lucy’s dad was involved in some nefarious and probably sci-fi way. But the way this story twists at the end is nothing short of serpent-like. Which is why I cannot go into too much detail here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to experience it blind.

Finally, I can give the Fallout season finale the most important praise I can ever give a finale. It did its number one job, getting us excited for season two. We have answers, but now we have new and more exciting questions. And even better, we have a desire to see vengeance done.

What didn’t work

Now that the season is done, though, I can bring up something that bothered me through all eight episodes.

I don’t buy Lucy and Maximus’s relationship.

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Maybe because it’s rushed. Maybe because the two actors don’t have a lot of chemistry. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure even now either character could tell you a single thing about the other. There is just no spark between the two. So their love story feels tacked on. I honestly feel like their love story could have been removed from the show entirely and it would have no negative impact.

I also didn’t buy Dane’s confession. This is a minor spoiler, but it comes up early in the episode. Dane confesses that they hurt their foot so that they wouldn’t have to go into the wastelands.

And at first, I kept expecting Maximus to thank them later. I honestly thought that they were just lying to save Maximus’s life. But no, as it turns out, they were not.

But it just doesn’t make sense. The motivations don’t jive. I honestly think it would have been better for the story if they had lied to save Maximus’s life.

At least then there’d be one other Brother of Steel who had some nobility.

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In the end, this first season of Fallout was everything I could ask for. So far as I can tell, it was everything fans of the Fallout franchise could ask for. There wasn’t a bad episode in the bunch. Honestly, the only real complaint I had was that the season was so short.

I’ll be counting down the days to season two, and I hope you’ll be joining me then. Because war, war never changes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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Fallout, The Radio

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Episode seven of Amazon’s Fallout is the penultimate episode. This is often when a series goes off the rails and starts to mess things up. After being burned so often recently, I was apprehensive when this episode began.

Thankfully, this was a fear that did not come to pass. And so far, Fallout’s finale is doing just fine.

Lana the dog in Fallout.

The story

A lot happened in this episode, so we’re just going to skim over some of the more important storylines. We’ll start with Lucy and Maximus, in Vault 4. Lucy has discovered what she believes is a secret collection of monsters. But of course, it turns out that it’s simply people that the vault dwellers discovered and are trying to help heal. But her meddling around was enough for them to kick her out of the vault. With two weeks’ worth of food and water, of course.

But Maximus assumes they’re going to do something much worse. And so he steals their power coil to fight through the perfectly innocent people and save Lucy.

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Meanwhile, we dive further into The Ghoul’s past, when he was still Western star Cooper.

After attending a Communist meeting, he’s approached by Lee Moldaver. She suggests that Vault Tech is hiding something, something terrible. And she tells Cooper that his wife Barbara knows more about this than she’s letting on. Moldaver gets Cooper to bug Barbara’s Pip Boy, and listen in on an important meeting.

Poor Cooper hears far more than he wants to.

War, war never changes.

What worked

I would like to first point out that this was one of the funniest episodes so far. I mean, it got incredibly tragic and sad by the end. But it also had some great laugh-out-loud moments. This should be a surprise to no one, with such an array of comedians guest starring. Chris Parnell was in the last episode as well but is now joined by the incredibly funny Fred Armisen as DJ Carl. This is of course not his first foray into the funny and spooky world, as he also played Uncle Fester in Wednesday.

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Most of what makes this episode funny is the character’s understated and deadpan responses to wild situations. When Maximus returns the energy coil and is greeted by a simple thank you. When Thaddeus gets an arrow through his neck, and slowly realizes that hey, he might be a ghoul. These were hilarious because they could have been truly dark moments. But because this world is so dark, and the characters have already been through so much, they’re simply done. They take all of this in stride because of course that’s what’s happening. It’s par for the course for them.

Aaron Moten and Ella Purnell in Fallout.

On the other hand, we’ve finally seen the full extent of The Ghoul/Cooper’s past. And it’s so much worse than we could have imagined. I assumed that he’d lost his beloved wife and daughter in the atomic blasts two hundred years ago, somehow not dying with them and instead turning into a literal and figurative monster. The truth is so much worse. I’ll do my best not to spoil the ending. But I will say this. There is nothing more painful than mourning someone and hating them at the same time. And it’s easy to see how Cooper turned into The Ghoul. That sort of pain could drive anyone mad.

This balance between comedy and tragedy is one of the reasons why this episode worked so well. It’s one of the reasons why the series is working so well. It manages to combine the core tenets of theater in a way that never compromises the strengths of either. The eventual downfall of Thaddeus is a great example of this because it’s both tragic and funny. We’ve seen what happens to ghouls, and it’s a horrible end. But as he’s hardly been a sympathetic character, we can all get a good laugh at his predicament as well.

The sheer amount of good old-fashioned gore doesn’t hurt either, of course.

What didn’t work

All that being said, there was one thing that bothered me about this episode. And it was the reveal of Vault 4’s big secret.

Honestly, I was expecting the Vault 4 storyline to go way darker. I wanted it to go way darker. While I’ve never played these games myself, I know enough about the story to say that these vaults are not the bastions of safety and morality that they have so far been portrayed as. And while that has certainly been alluded to, we haven’t seen it.

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We haven’t seen the depravity in these vaults. And it’s there. But maybe we just haven’t gotten to it yet.

In the end, The Radio did exactly what it needed to do. It set us up to have most of our questions answered in the season finale. And I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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Fallout, The Trap

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Amazon Prime’s Fallout has continued to be a suspenseful delight. And with the last episode’s dramatic cliffhanger, I was certainly looking forward to this one.

Thankfully, it did not disappoint.

The story

We start our story with Lucy and Maximus waking up in a decontamination room in Vault 4. They’re welcomed guests, once they’re done with decontamination.

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Vault 4 at first seems very much like Vault 33 to Lucy. She’s surprised, however, to find that a lot of people who live there are actually from the surface. And the people who live in this vault are, well, a bit mutated. Their overseer, named Benjamin and played by the hilarious Chris Parnell, has just one eye in the middle of his face. Some people have extra limbs or missing ones. And yet it’s clear that everyone’s living together in peace and companionship.

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to look like. There is, after all, the matter of the weird cult the surface dwellers seem to have formed. And, the small matter of the vault level no one is supposed to go to. It should come as no surprise that, of course, that’s exactly where Lucy finds herself before the episode is over.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Of course, this episode wouldn’t be complete without checking in with the Ghoul. And his part of the story is, honestly, more compelling.

We see him apprehended by people referring to themselves as The Government. And while he appears to be a prisoner, it’s clear soon enough that he’s the one in charge.

Far more compelling are his flashbacks to his past. While his wife, Barb, is starting to be more secretive, he learns more than he wants to about Vault Tec. He also learns that the Communist party in Hollywood might know more about what Barb does for a living than he does. And it’s clear soon that she never wanted him to know.

For good reason.

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What worked

I first want to draw attention to the excellent way we are learning about the Ghoul. As we learn more and more about his past, we can see how he’s become the monster he is today. It’s clear that once upon a time he had everything he could want. A lovely home, a family he lived for, and a successful career. And he lost all of that, even his dog. And with those losses, he lost his humanity in more ways than one.

But I also think we’re seeing signs that his humanity at least isn’t as lost as he thought it was.

On a lighter note, I loved Maximus’s response to the vault. While he’s apprehensive at first, he is swept away by the welcome basket. He’s lived his whole life hungry, barely surviving, and suddenly he has food. Good food. Caviar and oysters. He has a warm robe and TV and a safe place to exist. It must have been like stepping into a fairy tale for him. And while it wasn’t exactly helpful for Lucy, it’s completely relatable that he decided to sink into a chair and have a snack in front of the TV for a while.

What didn’t work

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While this episode was mostly good, I do have one complaint. When Lucy is first meeting with Overseer Benjamin, we see him accidentally drinking a cup of coffee that has gotten moldy.

Chris Parnell in Fallout.

Now, this makes perfect sense in our world to convey someone too busy and forgetful to clean up old mugs. But it’s hard to fathom someone living in a Vault in which every resource is carefully monitored, letting something like coffee go bad. It’s a small detail, and it was funny. Also more relatable than I’d like to admit. But in this instance, in this world, it was jarring.

So far this season has been intense. There’s a lot of intrigue and mystery. There’s a lot of high emotions. And there’s a lot on the line for everyone. Maybe, for one character, more than we’ve ever realized before.

Good thing we still have two episodes to discover what’s happening.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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