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

Uncle Peckerhead


A road trip with a punk band can be a bloody good time.

(2020) Horror Comedy (Epic/Dread CentralChet Siegel, David Littleton, Jeff Riddle, Ruby McCollister, Ryan Conrath, Greg Maness, Shannon O’Neill, Chloe Roe, Lucy McMichael, David Weinheimer, David Bluvband, Ruth Lolla, Alex McKelvey, Josh Peck, Adam R. Brown, Joey Maron, Nicholas Santos, Chris Tapp, Wicky Mendoza, Dave Ruestle, Kevin Lawrence. Directed by Matthew John Lawrence

2020 Florida Film Festival

With a title like Uncle Peckerhead, you know that the movie is either going to be very, very bad, or very, very good. Fortunately, in this case, it’s the latter.

Judy (Siegel) fronts a punk band called DUH! who are about to go out on their very first tour which will end with them opening a show for the Queef Queens, a punk band that features Jen Jennings (O’Neill) who happens to own a record label. Her dreams of rock stardom look to be within their grasp. But, as many indie bands will tell you, that’s generally when the floor disappears beneath you.

Their van gets repossessed, leaving her, guitarist Max (Riddle) and drummer Mel (McCollister) to look for some wheels to allow them to get them to where they need to be. Eventually, they find an old redneck living in a van which after some convincing, agrees to drive them in and to be their roadie. He introduces himself as Peckerhead (Littleton), or just Peck.

For some reason, Judy doesn’t hit it off with Peck even though Max and Mel think he’s great. Soon, it develops that there’s a good reason Judy has bad vibes about him. I won’t tell you exactly why but there’s a reason that the actors playing Max and Mel are covered in fake blood in the picture above. However, despite Peck’s horrible issue, Judy finally begins to warm up to him. Then, once again, out goes the floor.

The first few minutes of the movie don’t give any hint about how good it actually turns out to be. The movie starts out rocky with some awkward dialogue, stiff acting and a feeling that everyone is standing around, looking at each other and whispering “Now what?” Fret not, true believers. Once Peck gets introduced into the mix, the movie takes off. Yes, there is some gore although not a lot – some extreme horror fans might end up disappointed, but Peckerhead is such a great character, with a kind of bumpkin charm that’s endearing.

And the music! It really rocks, with some fairly high-level indie influences, not the least of which are X (for the harmony vocals) and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s a shame that DUH! isn’t a real band because I’d buy their shit for sure. There’s even a condescending rival band who doesn’t sound half-bad either. This might end up having the best indie movie soundtrack of the year.

There is a little more emphasis on the comedy than the horror, and while the scares aren’t the aneurysm-inducing sort they are nevertheless effective. The horror is more situational, and again tends to be overshadows by the more humorous elements. Best line in the whole film is when Peck asks Mel why they chose the name DUH! and she responds “Because James Taylor was already taken.”

There is a lot going on here that is worth checking out. I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to the horror elements, but that might well have been a function of its micro-budget. This could easily end up being a cult classic and inspire a franchise of its own. I enjoyed the heck out of this – and if you like a good horror movie with a good dose of comedy and killer indie rock music, you might just agree with me.

REASONS TO SEE: The music is actually really good. Peckerhead is kind of a sweet guy.
REASONS TO AVOID: The dialogue is occasionally awkward and a bit indie-snooty.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is all sorts of violence, profanity, gore and some adult images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Riddle is the lone performer in DUH! who plays his own music in the film; he also supplies the guitar for Dominion Rising as well.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: CHUD
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: 
Tesla