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The Djinn Is a Master Class of Horror

IFC Midnight has been killing it this year. Their first two films, The Night and The Vigil, are two of the best horror movies of 2021, and while Come True was a definite step down, it’s still worth a watch. Now they’re coming out with a fourth film, The Djinn, and it’s the best of the bunch.

Directed by the team of David Charbonier and Justin Powell and starring Ezra Dewey and Rob Brownstein, this movie is about a mute boy named Dylan who lives with his father. One night, his father goes off to work and leaves Dylan alone in their apartment, and during the course of the night, the kid summons an evil spirit called the Djinn. Dylan wants it to give him the ability to speak, but unbeknownst to him, the Djinn doesn’t just come and do whatever its summoner asks. No, it will only grant his wish if he survives an hour with it, and during that hour, it will try its best to kill him and take his soul.

Hands down, the best thing about The Djinn is Ezra Dewey’s performance as Dylan. For most of its runtime, he’s the only character on screen, so he has to carry the film almost entirely by himself. On top of that, since his character is mute, he has to do it without any dialogue, so he faces a doubly tough challenge. And he totally nails it.

Every minute he’s on-screen is an absolute treat, and he so convincingly conveys a wide range of emotions with just his body language and facial expressions that you feel whatever his character feels. You’re happy when Dylan is happy, you’re sad when he’s sad, and, most importantly, you’re scared when he’s scared. Ezra Dewey makes this movie work almost single-handedly, and I’d be willing to bet that we’re going to see a lot more of him in the future.

A picture of Dylan and his father in a broken frame

As for the plot, it’s admittedly thin. If you go into The Djinn looking for a meaty story with all sorts of twists and turns, you’re going to be disappointed. At just over eighty minutes, this film eschews narrative depth in favor of almost nonstop scares. It has just enough of an introduction to set up the story, but once the horror kicks in, it doesn’t stop until the credits roll.

There are a few lulls in the action, but they’re always very brief. They’re just long enough for you to catch your breath, and before you know it, the evil Djinn is back on the attack, doing everything it can to steal poor Dylan’s soul. Some people might see the thin plot as a weakness, and in a lesser movie, it almost certainly would be. By going with scares over story, the film makes a very risky choice. If the scares don’t work, the movie won’t work, and in a lot of similar movies, that’s exactly what happens.

But not this time. Thankfully, the horror in this film is more than up to the task, so the shallow plot isn’t an issue. Much like The Night and The Vigil, this movie manages to keep you on the edge of your seat for just about its entire runtime. It’s super atmospheric, the Djinn itself is one of the most terrifying monsters I’ve seen all year, and while the film does have a few jump scares, it doesn’t overuse them. Instead, it wisely lets the horror inherent in the Djinn’s pursuit of Dylan’s soul do the majority of the heavy lifting, and it’s really effective.

A woman facing a wall

On top of the great lead character and the fantastic scares, The Djinn also features something I don’t normally mention in my reviews: a really cool, Carpenter-esque synth score. Even though I love music, film scores aren’t usually my cup of tea. Sure, I often enjoy them at the moment, but once the credits roll, I tend to forget about them. However, there are a few exceptions, and this is one of them. Composer Matthew James did a great job here, coming up with a score that helps to build an atmosphere of dread while simultaneously being very easy on the ears.

All that being said, this movie isn’t perfect. There’s not much about it that I can legitimately criticize, but there was one scene that didn’t hit me quite right. There’s a bit of a twist at the end involving Dylan and his father, and while I don’t want to spoil it, I will say that it didn’t feel entirely earned. I totally bought Dylan’s end of it, but his father’s end fell a bit flat for me. Since he’s gone for most of the movie, I didn’t feel all the emotions the film wanted me to feel for him. Overall, it still worked well enough, but it wasn’t quite as effective as it should’ve been.

However, in the grand scheme of things, that’s a very minor criticism, and it’s far, far outweighed by everything this movie gets right. The Djinn has an excellent lead character who carries the story almost entirely on the shoulders of his great performance. It features an awesome synth score that’ll catch your attention even if film scores aren’t usually your thing, and it has nonstop thrills and chills without an ounce of fat on its lean, eighty-two-minute runtime. If you’re looking for story above all else, this isn’t the movie for you. But if you’re okay with a pure spookfest that showcases the director’s ability to craft high-quality scares at an almost breakneck pace, then you’re going to want to watch this one as soon as it comes out.

The Djinn hits VOD and select theaters on May 14.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today. He blogs at Embrace Your Fears.

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