Something is in the water. Two movies this year dealing with ancient pre-flood mythologies. One with the Christian lore and the other dips into Islamic lore. Much as I had spoken about Noah and the concepts and elements of the story it elected to bring; my familiarity with the Jinn (or Djinn) is passing in nature. Creatures of smokeless fire. These creatures are not what you see in Aladdin, nor even Wishmaster. They are far more than that if you examine the lore even with a cursory pass. They are literal forces of nature and creation. So how does one make a movie about them and give them their due?
I am not sure this was the way, but considering it’s limited release I was lucky to see it. Shown in only 201 theatres nation wide, El Con Mall here in Tucson happens to be one of them. I suppose making $149,000 in three days isn’t bad with that kind of showing right? It averages to roughly 15 to 20 people per show per theatre. Ok, so not that good.
Written and directed by Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, this may be his first and last movie with a budget. As an unpublished writer, I know how hard it is to edit oneself. You get ideas and you want to get them all out. I know how you can get caught up in the mythology and concepts you have and want to give them all to your audience. Ahmad does not suffer from CNS (see the Noah review for what that means). I think he is just eager, I think he is passionate, and I think he needs a friend pulling him back from time to time.
The story touches on an Islamic legend of creation where three beings were made. Man of Clay, Angels of Light, and a third of Fire. Two had free will. One rose to dominance and the other resented it. In the modern age a man, Shawn Walker (Dominic Rains of General Hospital and a few movie walk ons) is a car designer who is living a relatively happy life with his wife, Jasmine (Serinda Swan of Breakout Kings and a few other small roles in TV and movies). As it must be in these movies that life is turned upside down by the arrival of a Jinn. The Jinn in their way want to kill this man who has a destiny to help defeat them once and for all, want him dead. Along the way he is given guidance and assistance from three strangers, Gabriel (Ray Park, yes, that Ray Park), Father Westhoff (William Atherton – Ghostbusters, Real Genius, Die Hard), and Ali (Faran Tahir – Iron Man, Star Trek). The three men try to prepare the woefully unprepared Shawn to save his wife, his life, his soul, and perhaps the future.
I want to get to the technicals quickly here as they are perhaps the weakest point. I appreciate having to work on a budget as a new director without a major studio backing you. The special effects land somewhere above your average SyFy movie of the week, which makes it better than Hercules, and roughly around where you would expect to find the next Dimension Films direct to DVD horror movie. It’s roughly what I found in Prophecy 3,4,5, and 6; or the sequels to Dracula 2000. Honestly, that isn’t bad. It is however where it gets a bit weak as the smoke effects really seem to take away from the scenes as do the random floodlights in the darkness. Ahmad wanted to use mythology to deal with these things born of smokeless fire yet they sure have a lot of smoke and it isn’t good. The movie makes up for it in one major area. Make up.
For that we thank the illustrious presence of Robert Kurtzman (Dusk till Dawn). Kurtzman is the “K” in KNB Effects. If you want it practical and you want it from some of the best alive in the industry go to KNB. Watch The Walking Dead if you don’t believe me. Thats their work. His design for the Djinn was inspired to say the least. Neither male, nor female, nor wholly human; the design was hard to take my eyes from. Some may call it simplistic. Perhaps so; but there was a beautiful elegance to it, that should be respected. Even the “non-fire” design was interesting to look at, if not a bit common in this day of emaciated creature horror.
The last technical I want to talk about is camera work. At least 10 minutes of the movie feel like they are a commercial for the 2014 Pontiac Firebird. At least Need for Speed was honest about it. The movie is a mix of annoying me with some of the camera work and making some inspired decisions. I have to give credit overall though as I know that budget only allows so much and you have to make do with all you can.
The acting isn’t half bad either. Well above SyFy and most Dimension films schlock. No one is going to come away with an award for this one, but at the same time they tried. At least they felt like they were trying. It is always pleasant to see Mr. Atherton on screen and for once as a heroic figure than a jerk. Ray Park without make up and getting to be himself a bit is also a good change of pace. Serinda Swan isn’t given much to do other than look pretty. I consider that a mark against the film as she could have had interesting story potential. Dominic Rains also does what he can here, trying to bring some emotion into the performance and mostly succeeds. Tahir, much like Atherton, commands a certain presence in the film and I truly wish I could have seen both of them more than I did. He is an underrated actor in hollywood and if we are truly lucky someone will come to their senses and use him well in movies to come.
The script and pacing of the story want it to be bigger than it can be. A flaw to be certain. It creates certain jumps of logic, ability, and character development that were jarring to me and hardly felt natural. I don’t know quite right now how I would fix those issues, but they COULD be fixed.
As I mentioned before the use of the ancient lore as a basis for the film was a breath of fresh air in a world of comic book movies, remakes and re imagining. This film should be celebrated for that. But should you see it?
Unless you are a fan of the indy film that wants to be a studio film. Unless you want to support a specific actor, concept, or the director himself. Unless you are curious and have it showing in a theatre near you, I can’t say see it. As much as it should be celebrated and the director given a chance the overall movie is kinda just ok. It holds some potential, it has some good actors in it who need to be used more, but it just barely rises above your average Dimension or Dark Castle film. It’s best asset is that they tried!
Most of you haven’t and won’t come across it. You aren’t missing a diamond in the rough if you do miss it. Maybe though, maybe someone will give Ahmad a shot with something else. Something larger. That, I can hope for and so should you.