Review: 'The Djinn' is a taut and tense horror film that delivers requisite chills and shocks

·2 min read
Ezra Dewey in the movie "The Djinn."
Ezra Dewey in the movie "The Djinn." (IFC Films)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

Sometimes supernatural horror films get bogged down with a lot of complicated mythology and explanations. That’s not a problem with “The Djinn,” an impressively efficient thriller that sets up its premise quickly and then gets down to the business of chills and shocks — nearly all of which is delivered without dialogue.

Ezra Dewey stars as Dylan Jacobs, a mute preteen who moves to a new apartment with his late-night radio DJ father (Rob Brownstein) following his mother’s death. While home alone and exploring, Dylan finds an old book of spells, detailing a wish-granting ritual. He goes through the steps and asks — via sign language — for a voice. This process conjures a demonic genie, whose attacks the boy must survive until midnight to complete the wish.

The book (read in voiceover) tells the audience pretty much everything they need to know about what’s happening, up to and including the djinn’s habit of taking on the human forms of dead people … like Dylan’s mom. The writer/director team of David Charbonier and Justin Powell keep their story simple. “The Djinn” is essentially a home-invasion picture, holding close on a young hero as he hides in his apartment and tries to outwit a relentless monster for one terrifying hour.

The cramped location does limit what Charbonier and Powell can do, visually. There is a bit of visual monotony in “The Djinn,” which keeps cycling through the same few under-lit, under-decorated rooms. The film also introduces an unnecessary bit of mystery, as it keeps returning to Dylan’s memories of the night his mother died, to fill in more details.

But for the most part, “The Djinn” is effectively taut and tense, helped along by a spooky, synth-heavy score, some nifty special effects and a genuinely disturbing twist ending.

Charbonier and Powell set themselves a difficult task, to generate horror mostly with pictures and sound design, and only a few spoken lines of exposition. They’ve smartly paired their stripped-down approach with a plot reduced to a few choice elements: a plucky kid, a ticking clock and a shadowy beast with sharp teeth.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.