Tobe Hooper's cheesy, ham-fisted ghost story is marred by unimaginative f/x and leaden dialogue.
Few would guess Tobe Hooper’s been making pics since the 1970s, given how outright bad “Djinn” looks. Produced by high-power Emirati shingle Image Nation and Dubai-based Filmworks, this limp attempt at local horror takes elements from “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Grudge” and others, thrown together into a cheesy, ham-fisted ghost story about an Emirati couple moving back from the States and tormented by a vengeful wraith. Hooper’s lack of engagement isn’t helped by unimaginative f/x and leaden dialogue. Given the mix of Arabic and English, “Djinn” is strictly for the Emirati market, along with more obsessive Fangoria fans.
The prologue tells of a baby who is half-human, half-djinn (a shape-shifting demon), taken from his mother, who now searches the world for her offspring. Shift to New York, where guilt-ridden Salama (Razane Jammal) feels she’s to blame for her infant’s death. Hubby Khalid (Khalid Laith), an orphan from way back — hint hint — gets a transfer back to the UAE. Salama is reluctant to go, but her family is thrilled to have her return.
A clunky flashback shows a ghostly fishing village, apparently nowhere near water, haunted by djinns. A tall apartment block is built on the space, and that, of course, is where Salama and Khalid are housed. Salama is uneasy: Could it be the constant fog (cheaply done)? The strange concierge (Malik McCall)? The disembodied baby cries? Meeting bizarre, black-clad, plastic-faced neighbor Sara (Aiysha Hart) makes her only more uncomfortable, and then the “Rosemary’s Baby” parallels really kick in, when she and Khalid are invited to Sara’s apartment to meet the neighbors (alas, Ruth Gordon is nowhere in sight).
Chills are nonexistent and frights minimal, thanks to thirdhand concepts such as the djinn’s habit of crawling and mumbling, “Grudge”-style, along floors and walls. Perhaps if the script had injected a little life into the proceedings, then the protags would emerge from the land of blah, but as it is, any characterization they’re given comes from an unimaginative menu with zero surprises. Joel Ransom’s lensing is flat, and the editing doesn’t help the desultory proceedings. Locals seemed engaged at the public screening caught, though condescension to one’s target audience won’t make lasting friends.
Film Review: 'Djinn'
Reviewed at Abu Dhabi Film Festival (Showcase), Oct. 25, 2013. Running time: 85 MIN.
(United Arab Emirates) A Fortissimo presentation of an Image Nation, Filmworks production. (International sales: Fortissimo, Amsterdam.) Produced by Tim Smythe, Daniela Tully.
Directed by Tobe Hooper. Screenplay, David Tully. Camera (HD, color), Joel Ransom; editors, Andrew Cohen, Mark Stevens; music, BC Smith; production designer, Brentan Harron; costume designer, Angela Schnoeke-Paasch; sound, Sam Kashefi; visual effects supervisor, Sean Findley; casting, Jane Frisby, Sarah Abdullah.
Razane Jammal, Khalid Laith, Aiysha Hart, May El Calamawy, Abdullah Al Junaibi, Carol Abboud, Malik McCall. (Arabic, English dialogue)