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When a film begins with a voiceover narration intoning “In the beginning” you know that there’s going to be some heavy lifting involved. Such is the case with Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad’s supernatural thriller that exposes Western audiences to a spiritual creature well known in Arabic and Islamic folklore. But despite the exoticism of its mythology, Jinn proves itself a typically formulaic B-movie exercise that will have little resonance for those unfamiliar with its inspiration.
It’s explained at the beginning that “three were created: man, made of clay; angels, made of light, and a third, made of fire.” The latter, you may have already guessed, are the Jinn, who apparently are capable of both good and evil. Naturally, the film concerns itself with the latter variety.
After a brief Indiana Jones-style prologue set in 1901 India and featuring a fateful battle between a human and a demon, the story shifts to present-day Ann Arbor (filming took place in Michigan), where we’’e introduced to automotive designer Shawn (Dominic Rains) and his wife Jasmine (Serinda Swan) who are basking in the success of his latest creation, a muscle car dubbed “The Firebreather.” (In one of the more elaborate movie tie-ins in recent memory, the director actually designed such a real-life car, some fifty of which are being sold at a price clearly unaffordable to most moviegoers.)
They receive a VHS tape — now there’s a throwback — containing a long-ago message from Shawn’s father warning him of imminent danger and advising that he’s part of a family line that’s long been cursed. Sure enough, bad things start happening, including a mysterious home invasion and a spectral figure ominously peering at the couple from afar.
Eventually Shawn seeks the help he needs, from the strange duo of Gabriel (Ray Park) and Father Westhoff (William Atherton, no doubt pining for the days in which he starred in such films as The Day of the Locust). They laboriously explain to Shawn that because of his lineage he’s in a unique position to battle the jinn, or rather a particular sect known as the Shayateen who are seeking to rid the planet of mankind. Gabriel proceeds to guide Shawn to a decrepit mental institution where he’s introduced to a shackled patient, Ali (Faran Tahir), who turns out to be Shawn’s uncle and who tells him that he must battle the jinn through an ancient ritual known as chillah.
Got all that? It doesn’t really matter, as it all leads to a predictable climactic battle between Shawn, aided by his newfound comrades in arms — yes, even the priest picks up a weapon and turns badass — and the fiery jinn who resemble unfortunate burn victims. In the process, the seemingly mild-mannered Shawn discovers his inner warrior, at one point doffing his shirt to reveal a toned torso indicating that he spends as much time at the gym as the office.
Hampered by subpar special effects, convoluted exposition and one-note performances–only the veteran Atherton seems to be having fun with his role, although you can see he’s having trouble keeping a straight face — Jinn is an ultimately forgettable genre pic that fails to exploit its elaborately detailed mythology in sufficiently imaginative fashion.
Opens April 4 (Freestyle Releasing)
Production: Exxodus Pictures
Cast: Dominic Rains, Ray Park, William Atherton, Faran Tahir, Serinda Swan
Director/screenwriter: Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad
Producers: Benjamin Dresser, Alan Noel Vega
Executive producers: Najam Syed, Shahid Syed
Director of photography: Robert Mehnert
Editors: Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, Justin Clugston Hynous
Production designer: Chris Anthony Miller
Costume designer: Amy Julia Cheyfitz
Composer: Noah Sorota
Rated PG-13, 97 min.
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