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.
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.
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 / 5)