David Charbonier & Justin Powell are filmmakers you likely aren’t familiar with yet, but that’s going to change pretty soon. Their first feature, The Djinn, celebrated it’s North American Premiere at Panic Fest 2021 just a few months after their second, The Boy Behind The Door world premiered at Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2021. It’s going to be really interesting to watch The Djinn be held up in horror history as a Covid Lockdown movie because of its minimalist approach but in reality, it was filmed in 2018. It’s stripped-down out of necessity and its bare-bones approach is easily one of its biggest strengths.
Starring Ezra Dewey (who also appears in The Boy Behind The Door), The Djinn follows a young mute boy named Dylan over the course of one night in a new apartment. his father, a late-night DJ, has left him alone to get settled into their new surroundings but he runs into trouble after discovering some of the previous occupant’s belongings. Included among them are a rusty old mirror, a slightly creepy self-portrait, and a definitely-bad-news old book of magic. As though the book has looked directly into him, it opens to a page on Djinns and their ability to grant wishes.
“The Djinn is a great example of how indie filmmaking can utilize its shortcomings to make compelling, suspenseful stories with well-thought-out characters and a damn good monster”
Like an evil Disney genie let out of it’s lamp, Dylan is forced to fight for survival after following the instructions in the book and conjuring the Djinn. He lights a candle, he looks into the mirror, he makes his wish, and he’s left to suffer the consequences. his wish seems simple; he wants a voice. But it’s a wish that carries more weight for him personally than simply making conversation easier, and it’s a wish that he is willing to fight for at all costs. Which is good, ’cause this Djinn is playing for keeps and it plays dirty.
I love a good confined story. I love seeing characters forced to become resourceful, and I love stories that are forced to become resourceful themselves by limiting a character’s resources. Dylan and his father are still in the process of moving into this new apartment and you better believe the few items they had time to unpack all become part of Dylan’s survival. They don’t have a bunker filled with Djinn-fighting weapons. They don’t happen to live next door to a helpful, retired Djinn hunter. This little boy is outmatched, but not easily outsmarted. At every turn, he’s forced to find clever ways to deal with this ruthless entity that has taken him hostage in his own home.
“…Charbonier & Powell have established a visual language in their filmmaking that conveys 10 minutes of exposition in a 5-second shot.”
This seems like a good time to admit that I don’t know a dang thing about the factual accuracy of The Djinn because my “genie” knowledge is mostly limited to Disney’s Aladdin and Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow. So forgive me if I praise this movie for taking interesting spins but this movie takes some interesting spins on the Djinn mythos. In The Djinn, the Djinn has the ability to take the form of the dead to confuse and defeat the wish maker, including an escaped madman that died in a car accident earlier that day, the previous tenant who died in the apartment, and someone painfully close to Dylan. It’s a brilliant strength to give the Djinn so he isn’t simply stomping around in his smoky, monster form but it also gives Dylan the ability to confront his own demons. It’s also a clever way to inject more characters into the story and reduce costs on Djinn CGI, but hey, fun, and interesting nonetheless.
The Djinn is a great example of how indie filmmaking can utilize its shortcomings to make compelling, suspenseful stories with well-thought-out characters and a damn good monster. It’s maybe a little formulaic in its approach but those beats all resonate and all without the lead character uttering a single word! It’s a great example of visual storytelling and, two films deep now, Charbonier & Powell have established a visual language in their filmmaking that conveys 10 minutes of exposition in a 5-second shot. Their camera is always playful, constantly looking for the most interesting place to show you what you need to see and, a constant gripe for horror fans, they are not afraid to put children in danger on screen. The Boy Behind The Door moreso, just given the context, but The Djinn aint’ fooling around. They put that little boy through the wringer, physically and emotionally. You see, Dylan forgot the single most important rule when dealing with Genies & Djinns, and you may forget it too in rooting for a happy ending: Be careful what you wish for.
David Charbonier & Justin Powell’s The Djinn celebrated its North American Premiere at Panic Fest 2021, and will be hitting select theatres, Digital/VOD May 14 under the IFC Midnight banner. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know what you thought of the film or what you would wish for from The Djinn over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.