The Djinn


There are some things you don’t want to see in your flashlight beam.

(2021) Horror (IFC Midnight) Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, Tevy Poe, John Erickson, Donald Pitts, Jilbert Daniel, Isaiah Dell, Colin Joe, Omaryus Luckett. Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell

 

One of those old truisms that you don’t need to complete the sentence to understand its meaning: “Be careful what you wish for.” As this film posits, also be careful who you make your wish from.

Dylan (Dewey) is a mute 12-year-old boy reeling from a family tragedy. His dad (Brownstein) is a late night DJ who is working a double shift on what the title card describes as a pleasant summer night in 1989. The two men have moved into a new house in a new town and Dylan will be on his own until Dad comes home. The bond between them is strong but Dylan wonders, using American Sign Language, “Would Mom have left if I weren’t…different?” While Dad assures him that he’s perfect the way he is, Dylan isn’t so sure.

Dylan also confirms that the previous resident, an old man (Pitts), indeed died there. He thoughtfully left behind a framed portrait of himself, as well as The Book of Shadows in a burlap sack for Dylan to find, complete with instructions on how to summon a Djinn who would grant whichever wish Dylan makes – so long as he survives an hour alone with the Djinn and so longas he does’t extinguish the candle he has lit for the ceremony before midnight. Those Djinn, they’re sticklers for the rules.

Most of the film is of a terrified Dylan fleeing and hiding from the Djinn (Erickson) while having flashbacks of his sad, disturbed mom (Poe). The Djinn can take a number of different forms and it does so throughout the short running time of the film, giving Dylan a different horror to deal with. All of this is done with virtually no dialogue; what dialogue there is occurs at a dinner table scene at the beginning of the film and is spoken by Dylan’s Dad. There is also a recording of the instructions for summoning the Djinn, although whether that is in Dylan’s head or not is up to your interpretation.

For a film like this to work you need a child actor who can express a variety of emotions (mainly fear) almost completely through body language and facial expression, and the filmmakers found one in Dewey. He does a remarkable job carrying the film on his frail shoulders, although the filmmakers tendency to use extreme close-ups of his face in a rictus of terror doesn’t do him any favors. However, for a role like this they coud have done much, much worse.

The monster itself isn’t super terrifying although it does the trick for the most part. There is an overuse of jump scares, particularly a central air unit that kicks off with an apocalyptic thud that would fray the nerves of any homeowner after not too long.

There are a fair amount of horror tropes here and the filmmakers wisely don’t try to reinvent the wheel. What they do is provide a basic, no-frills horror film off of an interesting premise and deliver it in a compact amount of time without an overabundance of filler. These days, that’s something of an accomplishment.

REASONS TO SEE: Different in a good way. Some nice world building.
REASONS TO AVOID: Relies a bit too much on jump scares.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some frightening violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In Islamic/Arabic mythology, a djinn is a highly intelligent spirit who is neither good nor evil, but is capable of mimicking any form and occasionally can possess human beings.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews; Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Witchboard
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Inhabitants: An Indigenous Perspective

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Our Family Wedding


Our Family Wedding

Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia wonder if a remake of "The Odd Couple" is next.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Forest Whitaker, Carlos Mencia, America Ferrera, Regina King, Lance Gross, Diana Maria Riva, Lupe Ontiveros, Anjelah Johnson, Charlie Murphy, Vivek Shah, Shannyn Sossamon, Warren Sapp, James Lesure. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

One of the challenges of a marriage is uniting disparate families or at least getting them to co-exist. When you add the elements of different cultures and religions, things can get awfully dicey.

Lucia Ramirez (Ferrera) and Markus Boyd (Gross) have been living together for some time and are deeply in love. She is a Columbia Law School drop-out, teaching underprivileged kids in New York. He is a Columbia Medical School grad, about to join up with Doctors Without Borders in Laos. The two want to get married, but the issue is breaking it to their folks – because they want to get married before they both leave for Laos.

Fortunately, their folks all live in Los Angeles so it’s a train ride back to the City of Angels to inform their parents. Markus’ parents were divorced early on but he was raised by Brad (Whitaker), his dad – a popular all-night DJ. Lucia’s parents – dad Miguel (Mencia) and mom Sonia (Riva) are middle class Mexican-Americans, with dad owning a tow service. Lucia has neglected to tell them that she’s dropped out of Law School and that she’s dating, let alone dating an African American guy. Now, she’s come to tell them she’s marrying him. Probably not the wisest course of action.

The dads instantly butt heads, having met previously in an unpleasant situation (Miguel towed Brad’s Jag) and they continue to constantly one-up each other. They recognize that the wedding is inevitable so each tries to impose his stamp on the ceremony, from the music to the cake to the seating arrangements. Pretty soon the pressures being placed on the kids threaten not only their relationship but those of their parents as well.

This could have been a decent enough movie – the premise is sound – but, unfortunately, it’s wildly inconsistent. For every moment that is amusing (Lucia’s serenade to Markus causing dogs to howl) there’s at least one more that makes you squirm (a wayward goat eating Viagra and then attempting to hump Brad’s leg). The hit-and-miss nature of the movie makes watching it jarring upon occasion.

Ferrera is an enormously appealing actress; her work on “Ugly Betty” as well as her breakout role in Real Women Have Curves shows this to be true. She’s also appealing here but she’s largely used in a reactive role and for a law student who supposedly has a great relationship with her dad, she makes some remarkably foolish decisions. Mencia is actually quite good as well, although he sometimes descends into shtick – but that may well be the fault of the writers more than him.

It is Whitaker who is most surprising of all. He seems uncomfortable and confused here, not nearly to the standards of an Oscar nominee who is one of the better actors working today. His comic timing seems a bit off in places and the confirmed bachelor bit wears thin quickly. I have to wonder if he saw the goat humping his leg in the script and deciding to phone it in from there.

Riva and Johnson contribute nicely as Lucia’s mother and sister respectively. However, by and large, most of the cast seems to be written to confirm racial stereotypes. It can be off-putting especially when you get the Hispanic grandmother (Ontiveros) fainting at the sight of a black man who’s dating her granddaughter. Oh, the horror.

Clearly, this country has continuing problems with race relations and I have no objection to exploring that situation, but I would rather it was not done in quite so dumb a manner. While the movie has some nice moments and occasionally a salient point to make, it torpedoes its own best intentions with infantile humor and poorly executed bits. The subject deserved better treatment – and a better script with better directorial decisions. Sadly, it got none of these.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the moments are delightful and funny. Mencia and Ferrera do a good job.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes the movie tries too hard to be funny and falls flat. Whitaker, a terrific actor, seems lost in his role. Offensive racial stereotypes are reinforced.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual situations and some crude language briefly.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The parts of the dads were initially offered to – and rejected by – Samuel L. Jackson and George Lopez who discussed the matter on Lopez’ talk show.  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel here but otherwise unremarkable.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $21.4M on an unreported production budget; the movie probably broke even.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Final Day of Cinema365: From the Heart