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Jinn (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"Slow 'Jinn' fizzles."
1 stars

This is a terrible little supernatural thriller, one of the more clumsily-executed movies I've seen at a mainstream multiplex in some time. It's bad enough that one really doesn't need to get into how timid it is in order to be properly disappointed in it, but that timidity is part of what makes it so frustrating: There's the opportunity to make a different flavor of horror movie here, and filmmaker Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad runs from it.

The film starts with a flashback to India in 1901, where a man chasing after a jinni is told that it will return and kill his descendants. Jump forward to present day Ann Arbor, and it looks as though the last of those is Shawn Walker (Dominic Rains), born Sian Amin but adopted after his birth parents perished in a fire. He receives a mysterious message that may connect with the creepy things going on around himself and his wife Jasmine (Serinda Swan), eventually being told by the mysterious Gabriel (Ray Park) and Father Westhoff (William Atherton) that the ones responsible are a particularly nasty segment of jinn.

The jinn, we are told, are the third creation of God, made from fire as man was sculpted from clay and angels from light. What is not mentioned is that they are primarily pre-Islamic Arabic folklore that was integrated into Muslim beliefs; indeed, the story of the jinn is introduced via lines implying that they come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. It's understandable that Ahmad would go this route from a commercial standpoint, and there's actually something laudable about how he tries to emphasize the common ground between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, even if it is done in some fairly awkward ways. Just erasing the provenance of these creatures to substitute a familiar Catholic priest and never actually giving any indication of Shawn's beliefs doesn't do this attempt at inclusiveness any favors, and as much as I'm seldom going to argue that we need more religion in our pop culture, this isn't the way to go about minimizing it.

Even overlooking that, though, this is a very sloppily constructed movie. The exact same exposition, down to the word, is given twice, mystery is built around things that needn't have any, and things that are established as seeming quite important early on are either forgotten or flagrantly contradicted later. Some of it is just stuff that the audience would normally overlook as they are drawn into the movie's forward motion, but trying to artificially increase the drama by asserting two opposite things in rapid succession is some dirty pool. There's even a scene where Shawn describes his house as "ransacked", but the shots chosen don't get that across until the second time it happens.

Ahmad has issues with the scary bits, too. Many are shot with lots of bright flashes of light that just make things confusing rather than shocking, and the jinn themselves are not particularly impressive, often presented as the sort of CGI rendering that looks like it could be either rock or smoke, and given the sort of highly-processed voices that irritate because it's impossible to figure out what they are threatening rather than frightening. There's a chase scene that wastes the effort put into giving Shawn a custom sports car with how relatively slow it is. The film is at its most exciting when Ahmad lets Ray Park take the lead choreographing a fight or two (not going to lie, there's some fun in having a guy exorcise demons with his fists).

Park is typical of the cast - kind of familiar, not really bad, but not exactly possessed of the sort of personal charisma or undeniable talent that can make something of the rest of the script. He's a bit wooden, but at least fights well. Dominic Rains and Serinda Swan are a little more emotive, but don't get much chance to establish real personalities. William Atherton at least tries, and Faran Tahir is at least a valuable addition when he pops up in a supporting role.

The movie ends with hints at sequels and franchising, which seems both unlikely and undesirable. It's not the sort of bad movie that one recoils from, but its missing almost everything that could make it interesting and exciting, and there's no need to make more of it.

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originally posted: 04/07/14 05:31:24
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  04-Apr-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 14-Apr-2015



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