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Jinn Review: A Smokeless Pyre for Arabic Horror on Netflix

Once I heard that Netflix released a horror show called Djinn, specifically one that was done by a Jordanian production, I was ecstatic.

Finally, one of my favorite genres in both film and literature is now is a TV show on Netflix, with actual Arab representation in front of and behind the camera!

I sat anxiously in front of my television, with the lights off (as one does for horror productions), and plowed through the five-episode series only to find myself left with sheer…

Now before continuing, I would like to take a moment to state something that I want to make abundantly clear.

The cast was really awesome. Salma Malhas, Sultan Alkhail, Hamzeh Okab, Aysha Shahaltough, Zaid Zoubi, Ban Halaweh, Yasser Al Hadi, Mohammad Nizar, Mohammad Hindieh, Mohammad Hindieh, Abdelrazzaq Jarkas, Hana Chamoun, Faris Al Bahri, and Manal Sehaimat, all of you were really something special during this show. I felt like I was back home in the Middle East, and the emotions and dialogue that all of you captured is fantastic. I feel that actors in the Middle East don’t quite get a lot of attention (due to our culture’s obsession with musical superstars), and to all of you I say, “chapo ba!” Keep acting and keep kicking ass in what you are doing. It doesn’t go unnoticed.

Ok, back to my train of thought! I plowed through the five-episode series only to find myself left with sheer….and utter disappointment! (See what I did here? Take note on how to build suspense for a moment).

Like seriously, what was going on? It really breaks my heart to write a negative review on an Arab-centric performance but seriously creators – Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, Elan Dassani, Rajeev Dassani – you really need to understand the genre that you are exploring before making a production based in that genre. 

Below, I’m going to list a couple of observations on why this particular show fails at being a good horror production.

First, there is a complete lack of suspense within the basic plot. As I kept going through each episode I was waiting for something to occur that would really resonate or rather scare the shit out of me, but it never occurs. 

I felt no empathy for the characters, which is key for the genre, as those moments of pure horror (in this case cheap violence) within Jinn comes underserved.
This is a failure of the writers trying to build up unearned suspenseful moments in the story. Just because these moments occur, it doesn’t mean that those moments will land and have the intended effect on the viewers.

Yes, the characters aren’t moral upstanding students or citizens, but at the same time, there was no real build-up to who those characters are in order for the audience to form some sort of attachment to them. Otherwise, their eventual demise is simply a footnote in the story that doesn’t really provide urgency or build suspense if you will to the unbeknownst viewers.

Second, the production was cheaply put together with no real thought to what was going on. To make this latter point, I would like to state that at least (what felt like) 40% of the shots are B-Roll footage of Petra.

As much as I love archaeological sites, having studied them during my previous graduate careers, I am here to watch a horror show, not a documentary on Petra.

This is disturbing because there are only five episodes in the series and they average between 25-47 minutes long.

This tells the writer in me that there is no focus on developing a solid plot and script, which really should be the driving focus of this show as well as any other production and piece of literature that exist.

Yes the camera they used is top-notch and the shots were beautifully filmed, but you have to keep in mind that every scene in a show or movie, any chapter or panel in books, have to have a purpose as to why it is shown in the first place. Less to no B-roll and more purposeful sequences. Take your time with it and don’t rush.

Furthermore, if the production does not have enough finances to do special effects, then don’t do special effects. What was up with that twisty water thing from the faucet that would occur when the protagonist Jinn, Keras, would show up? Also, do Jinns only show up when people are in the bathroom?

One does not need to have a lot of money to create a scary or suspenseful movie or show. Play on the other senses on the audience, through music, dialogue, lighting, to create spooky effects that will resonate with the viewer throughout the show.

I highly recommend the creators watch horror films by Alfred Hitchcock, who is known for scaring the utter shit out of multiple generations with a very modest budget.

Lastly, the story could have been better. The basic premise of the show Jinn isn’t necessarily a bad one, but the execution of the plot, however, wasn’t great, 

For example, there were too many characters involved in the story, especially considering the production limitation of five episodes. Why that was so, I do not know?

Jinn should have focused in on a couple of characters and developed them to make them more relatable to the audience. That way, each character would have a purpose and (internal and external) challenges. With this Jinn would earn those moments that any horror fan anxiously awaits when pressing play. 

It pains me to write a scathing review, especially when people from my culture are given the opportunity to be on Netflix or any network. 

My wish is to see more productions reaching out to multiple writers and artists from across the globe, Arab or not, and create something that will get people from different cultures to sit down and enjoy the tale. 

Instead, I feel that Jinn is another rushed production that uses basic tropes as a way to simply just get something out there. Hopefully, it’s not just a simple cash grab.

P.S. 

I read briefly online that government officials wanted the production to stop because of simple kissing scenes? To that, I say, your people, as well as other people around the world, are both doing (and watching) way more inappropriate things than was depicted in this barely PG-13 production. It’s 2019. Grow the fuck up and leave artists be.

About Jad Kaado

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