Hey everyone! As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been playing catch-up on a handful of indie horror reviews recently, and today, I’m back with two more reviews—The Djinn from directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell and the hilarious mockumentary 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot (#1 Will Blow Your Mind!) by Zach Lamplugh, which are both currently streaming everywhere.
The Djinn: As someone who very much enjoyed their efforts on The Boy Behind the Door (which played at Fantastic Fest last September), I was excited to see what the filmmaking duo of Justin Powell and David Charbonier was going to do for their disturbing modern fairytale, The Djinn, and they did not disappoint. What they have managed to create doesn’t quite hit the same storytelling highs as The Boy Behind the Door, but I love how they manage to make the most of their one-locale story and its star Ezra Dewey makes for a compelling anchor to this creepy little chiller.
In The Djinn, we meet Dylan (Dewey) and his dad Michael (Rob Brownstein), who have just moved into their new apartment and are trying to settle into their new lives after Dylan’s mom tragically took her own life. Dylan, who is mute, feels extremely responsible for his mom’s suicide, as he believes that if he had a voice, he could have saved her. So, when he comes across a creepy book of spells in his closet, Dylan decides to summon a djinn as a means of granting him a singular wish—getting his voice back. And as you can imagine, since this is a horror movie, things don’t go exactly as planned for the young boy, and things take a terrifying turn.
Admittedly, there aren’t a ton of huge scares in The Djinn, so the film really is more about watching this poor kid try to reconcile with a lot of big issues all on his own (his dad is a radio DJ, so Dylan is often left on his own at night) and trying to come through it all unscathed. There is a ton of creepy imagery to be found in The Djinn, though, but I think considering the material at play in the film, it’s something that feels more suited as a gateway movie for younger viewers than it is for hardcore horror nerds (don’t worry, though—The Boy Behind the Door is set to arrive on Shudder later this year, and that one is going to totally mess you up big time), which is something I actually appreciated about The Djinn, because we need more of these types of genre movies to welcome in new generations of fans who may not be ready for the “heavy” stuff quite yet.
Also, The Djinn takes place within the confines of one location, and I must give props to both Charbonier and Powell as well as their cinematographer Julián Estrada, who all do an excellent job of making the most of the locale and keeping things visually interesting from start to finish for viewers (which is no easy feat, especially when you’re dealing with an apartment in the Valley—trust me, I know). The Djinn also has some killer effects work and the film works as well as it does because of Dewey’s performance, which is downright heartbreaking at times (he’s also in The Boy Behind the Door, and he’s equally impressive there).
And while some of the beats of Dylan’s harrowing night trying to survive against the titular demon may end up feeling slightly repetitive at times, The Djinn ends on a brilliantly bleak note that actually made me gasp, and I enjoyed just how (justifiably) mean that moment ends up feeling, because I’m someone who has always appreciated when cautionary tales take a dark turn. Between the two films they’ve collaborated on thus far, both Powell and Charbonier look to establish themselves as talents on the rise in the world of horror filmmaking, and I’m excited to see whatever fiendish frights they can come up with next.
Movie Score: 3/5
15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot (#1 Will Blow Your Mind!): I must admit that going into Zach Lamplugh’s cryptid mockumentary 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot, I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since a few months ago I had the chance to watch the very serious-minded Bigfoot doc Sasquatch, and oddly enough, both projects take a similar trajectory story-wise, but the results are very, VERY different (but equally great). That being said, 15 Things ended up being far more about clickbait culture than it was about the elusive creature at the center of the story, and not only did I laugh my ass off the entire time, but it also gave me some food for thought about the type of work that I want to be doing (and also served up an insightful lesson on the dangers of taking one’s self too seriously as well).
Using a VICE-style program as the framework for its story, 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot introduces us to Brian (co-writer Brian Emond playing a heightened version of himself here), who works for a VICE-esque content channel and is looking to be taken a bit more seriously by the higher-ups, but instead finds himself headed deep into the Appalachians with his cameraman Zach (Lamplugh) in tow, looking to track down none other than Bigfoot with the help of a wacky cryptozoologist named Jeff (Jeffrey Stephenson, who nearly steals the entire film with his wonderful performance). But even though Jeff might be a Sasquatch expert, he’s apparently terrible with directions, and he ends up getting everyone lost in the woods during their journey, where they end up dealing with life-or-death circumstances that extend far beyond their pursuit of the elusive Bigfoot. And that’s when things go totally bananas.
Usually, genre-related mockumentaries can be hit or miss for me; when they’re done right (Behind the Mask), they can add some brilliant context and commentary on the state of things in the genre world, but when they’re bad, well, there’s nothing more obnoxious than a filmmaker trying to punch down and poke fun at the things we love as movie fans. Thankfully, 15 Things takes the proper route with its approach, and I love how its story becomes so much more than just watching a few hapless dudes get lost in the woods with their camera in tow, just waiting around for something (anything) to happen.
In fact, I think because a lot of the frustrations that Brian expresses here are similar to my own struggles with my place in online journalism, that made me love it even more, and somehow 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot ends up being not only hilariously cringe-inducing at times (in a good way), but it’s also a rather insightful examination of content culture and how maybe some of us who take ourselves a bit too seriously (which I am totally guilty of) could stand to loosen up a bit and learn to embrace the more amusing aspects of our careers.
If you’re in the mood for a fun comedy and you dig on cryptids in general, I cannot recommend 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot enough. It absolutely surprised me in all the right ways, and I really hope folks will give it a chance—I’m really glad I did because I had so much fun with it from start to finish.
Movie Score: 4/5
[Image Credits: Above images courtesy of IFC Midnight and Cranked Up Films, respectively.]