When the going gets tough, the tough go to Abu Dhabi.
Look, don’t get me wrong — I still like Tobe Hooper, but he’s kinda fallen off the “A-list” of American horror directors, hasn’t he? The guy who gave us such timeless classics as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist has hit sort of his a “dry spell” in his career of late, so when some upstart producers from the United Arab Emirates threw some money his way to come and help get a film “scene” going in their country’s capital city, he quite understandably took them up on the offer and packed his bags for sunnier (and drier, and hotter) climes. The end result? 2013’s Djinn, a semi-claustrophobic, semi-atmospheric ghost-story-with-a-twist steeped in local legend and folklore.
Having recently lost their infant son, upwardly-mobile couple Khalid (played by Khalid Laith) and Salama (Razan Jammal) decide to attempt to “rebound” from the tragedy by relocating from the US to their hometown on Abu Dhabi, where Khalid has been offered a big-time job of some sort. They grab an expensive high-rise apartment for themselves in a prestigious, sprawling complex, but right away things start to go bad : the grounds are covered in a thick fog most of the time and the palatial spread is not just vacuous, but often empty as a tomb. You would think that you’d notice all of this weirdness before you move in, of course, but these trans-continental migrations can often leave you feeling a bit frazzled, from what I understand, and sometimes basic details just pass right by you.
Anyway, yup, the joynt’s haunted as shit, as I’m sure you’ve already picked up on, because centuries ago, a spirit-entity known as a djinn had her child taken from her on that very same spot and she’s been ceaselessly trying to get it back ever since. And you thought your mother had a tough time cutting the apron strings —
To make a long story short, the spirit of that dearly-departed infant has re-manifested itself in one of our protagonists (I won’t say which), while the djinn herself is inhabiting the form of their neighbor, Sarah (Aiysha Hart), a strikingly beautiful woman who, once in awhile and seemingly out of nowhere, loses all strength in her legs and has to resort to crawling on the floor. From there, well — shit just gets weird.
Don’t get me wrong — we like weird around these parts and a lot of what Hooper does with the script he’s given here is reasonably effective. Djinn is atmospheric, moody, insular, and the director has a nice way of making big, empty hallways and lobbies feel like they’re closing in on you. The lead actors all do a very nice job indeed (although some of the supporting cast obviously struggle), and there’s a palpable sense of dread hanging over the proceedings that makes for a thoroughly engaging time spent sitting on your ass staring at a screen. I’m not in any way, shape, or form suggesting that you shouldn’t watch this movie (which, like everything else under review this month, is currently available on Netflix), so please don’t think that for a second.
But — and you knew this was coming — there’s a major flaw here. Screenwriter David Tully commits a cardinal sin of horror that so many of his brethren do in that he makes sure that we know more about what’s going on from the outset than his characters do. Sometimes that’s necessary for the ensuing storyline to even make any sort of sense, sure, but sometimes — and this is one of those times — it really hamstrings the rest of the flick. And I’m not talking about tantalizing and semi-informative glimpses here and there to wet our appetites for more knowledge; no, I’m talking about an opening sequence set in the distant past that pretty much gives away the whole game. It’s not a fatal flaw, by any means, but it definitely comes pretty close, and it certainly lessens a much of the dramatic impact of the subsequet “revelations” interspersed throughout, so — far warning.
On the whole, though, I still liked Djinn. There are certain scenes that I even liked a lot. But I could very easily have loved it if it just hadn’t played its trump card quite so early.