United Arab Emirates
AVAILABLE ON REGION ‘A’ BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 82 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In New York City, Khalid’s wife Salama has been having emotional problems since the death of their child. A counsellor they consult suggests it would be a good idea if Khalid took a job has he been offered back in the United Arab Emirates so that she can reconnect with and benefit from the support of her family. They move into the Al Hamra tower block in the desert, but Salama’s mother is fearful as Al Hamra has been built on the site of a village that was reputed to be haunted by Djinn. Salama starts to see strange and scary things….
I really wanted to be nice about Tobe Hooper’s last film. Like I reckon many other folk who watch a lot of horror films, I’m often able to psychologically get myself to “that place” where I’m liable to be frightened a bit more easily, and of course watching something like this with all the lights out usually helps too. Having finally gotten around to watching last year’s very fine Iranian horror Under The Shadow [yeah, I know, I should have given it a review given the fact that this is Horror Cult Films, but I have neither the time nor the skill to review everything new that I watch and scary movies can be a hell of a lot scarier when you’ll properly into what you’re watching and not trying to notice this and that], I looked forward to seeing a film which had a similar setting and subject matter and had the odd feeling that it would be rather good despite the overall poor reception it had back in 2013. Well, thank goodness the Blu-ray was really cheap because Djinn, a highly conventional and rather bland ghost story in the ‘modern’ fashion with lots of jump scares relying on that loud musical chord and a CG apparition, isn’t too impressive. Parts of the first half are reasonable and there’s sometimes a sense that things are going to take off, but they never do and it soon becomes apparent that screenwriter David Tully has basically constructed his screenplay from as many horror movie cliches as he can cram in. Of course seeing common mofits pop up again and again from film to film can be fun, but that’s virtually all this movie consists of. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with all the films that this one steals from, though I guess The Grudge, Rosemary’s Baby and The Others are probably the major influences, and after a while I just wished I was watching one of those again.
I don’t know whether to feel sorry for Hooper, who was maybe unable to do much with such rehashed material, or feel some bafflement as to why it took it on. He hadn’t made a film since 2005’s Mortuary which was widely considered a dog and he probably just needed to work, but he could have tried a bit harder to make Djinn work. It was set up by the United Arab Emirates production company Image, who hired Hooper to direct, though Emirati director Nayla Al Khaja also worked on the project. Screenwriter David Tully came up with the story when he was taken by an Emirati friend to a village where he learned about local stories concerning the Djinn. Filming took place in Dubai where the cast and crew avoided using the word “djinn” in case locals were offended and taped over or hid the film’s title whereever it was showing. It was shot in 2011 but delayed for two years. Why the film was delayed probably depends on who you’re most likely to believe. The stated reasons include rewrites and reshoots to make it more palatable to the Emirites, Emirites objecting to the idea of a horror film, Abu Dhabi’s royal family finding it “politically subversive”, and a delay on meeting the Director’s Guild of America’s requirements – whatever they are. It was something of a hit in its native country but It didn’t even come out on Blu-ray/DVD here in the UK and I had to import it.
So the Djinn, who, as some opening text informs us, were created from fire by Allah in the same way that men were created from clay and angels from light, were evil and Allah seperated them from mankind, but sometimes there are problems when Djinn cross into our world. Cut to our couple Khalid and Salama who blames herself for the recent death of their child. Khalid glimpses a dark cloaked apparition at a rainy funeral, a shot that will be flashed back to ad nauseum throughout the film. After the couple talk to a counsellor who seems to know more than she lets on, we cut to the United Arab Emirates and to what only find out a little bit later is actually a flashback. An American called Bobby, accompanied by two guides, is exploring a village which is uninhabited and was once terrorised by Djinn, especially by the most powerful of them all, the female demon Um Al Duwais. One of the guides tells him a story concerning Um Al Duwais and – well I’m not going to go into exact details but I’m still going to mention it [I did place a spoiler warning at the start of this review] – basically tells him the plot of the movie, and even worse was that I had a feeling that it would be the plot of the movie too! So in terms of storyline there are no surprises whatsoever except for a bloody awful twist ending that makes absolutely no sense, and all the viewer can do is wait for certain expected things and supposed revelations.
Bobby is terrorised by something [quick shots of an evil face and clawed hands] and flees to his car where the doors won’t lock and he’s eventually pulled out of the car and killed offscreen – and it’s here where the see the only blood spilt though to be fair it’s not trying to be that kind of film. The whole scene sounds exciting and scary but doesn’t quite come off in the way that it should, which is a problem with many of the supposed highlights. Cut back to the present day and the couple are met at the airport by Salama’s father, mother and sister and taken to the tower block where they will now supposedly live. The block seems to be surrounded by a perpetual fog bank and father sees a figure in the middle of the road – or does he? The tower block has a receptionist who, like the counsellor, seems to know more than he’s letting on – in fact he later gets an odd moment when he’s called by Salama to investigate something and does indeed see something spooky but then claims to Salama that everything’s okay. What with Khalid at work, the majority of the rest of the film consists of Salama wondering around the apartment building seeing creepy things, and this soon wears thin when for most of the time we either just see the same apparition or hear a baby crying. Oh, and there’s a sexy lady living in a room just down the hallway. I wonder who she could be?
Flashback shots of a demonic looking baby have quite a good effect and I liked the scene where Um Al Duwais shows up in several security cameras filming different locations at the same time. There’s another good moment when Khalid calls the police; they answer and he can see them from the lobby as he bangs on the glass door but on their side the entire building is closed and they depart dismissing it as a prank call. On the other hand some birds slamming into the wall outside has some appalling CGI. A scene with two dogs is virtually thrown away though is amusing the way the person being chased can outrun them despite wearing high heels. The “Boo” moments tend to be poorly timed, a sign perhaps that Hooper didn’t care much about the project as with Crocodile, and certainly didn’t make this critic jump even though he thought he’d really put himself in that place where he would easily do so. After a while tedium sets in as you realise that the film’s neither going to do anything interesting nor actually be scary despite the audio side of the things working overtime with constant whispering, long ambient chords, and the like. I’ll put up with a horror movie that’s repetitious or has little happening if it still frightens. This one also fails to exploit the potentially interesting idea of the central couple being quite Westernised Emirites and therefore feeling out of place in their homeland except for them continually switching back and forth between English for when they’re alone, and Arabic for when they’re with others. Nor is the setting exploited for its potential aside from some decent cinematography from Joel Ransom who uses red vividly in a few scenes.
Hooper definitely seems on autopilot here, and this must be the main reason why the whole film just doesn’t provoke much of an emotional response in any respect. We don’t even feel much about the fact that heroine recently lost a baby and feels terrible guilt about it. I was barely engaged. I will say that Razane Jammal does a solid job as Salama in the scenes when she’s on her own, but Khalid Laith is horribly stiff as Khalid and their scenes together are so lacking in chemistry that it’s kind of funny to watch them. But after a while the main emotion I felt whilst watching Djinn was sadness, even more so whilst viewing Crocodile. Djinn is certainly better than that turd, but it’s such a shame that it was a finish to a career that begun so brilliantly and encompassed some other fine work before bafflingly going wrong.