Cinema buffs may acknowledge the British animation The Thief and the Cobbler as being the film that took the longest to make. With production first beginning in 1964, the final version of this tale of Aladdin-esque mystery in the Middle East didn’t see the light of day until 1993 – 29 years later.
Almost three years in the making, the UAE’s first horror film might be some way off that record. But anyone who has been looking forward to Djinn since it was first announced in early 2010 might well have felt as though it was destined to head in that direction.
With Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) in the director’s chair and backed by Image Nation Abu Dhabi – which is owned by Abu Dhabi Media, the same company that owns The National – this tale of evil spirits plaguing a UAE apartment – the world’s first supernatural thriller in both English and Arabic – had initially captured the fright-loving world’s imagination. Main shooting wrapped up in 2011, but deadlines came and went and rumoured appearances at film festivals – including a red carpet premiere in Dubai in 2011 – never materialised. This week Djinn finally gets its world premiere at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
“I don’t know if I ever lost hope,” admits the film’s lead star Razane Jammal. “After we filmed the project, for about six months it was ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’, ‘yes’, ‘maybe’. Then I got upset and decided to let it go. If the film was going to happen, it was going to happen.”
In Djinn, the Lebanese actress Jammal – in her first lead role – plays Salama, an Emirati woman who, together with her husband, Khalid (Khalid Laith), moves into a new luxury apartment in Ras Al Khaimah only to discover it is haunted by revenge-seeking malevolent beings. Flashbacks show that the development was built on the ruins of an abandoned fishing village (actually shot on the real-life former fishing village of Al Jazirat Al Hamra), where years earlier an American backpacker had been introduced to these Arab spirits. The story was written by the American screenwriter and former Dubai resident David Tully, who came up with the idea while on a visit to the village himself. But according to Image Nation’s chief executive Michael Garin, once shooting wrapped in 2011 and production moved to Los Angeles for the digital effects, the production team saw that some of the plot might be difficult to understand.
“When we finally assembled everything, we realised that there were elements of the story that were not readily comprehensible to an audience seeing it for the first time,” he says.
So a few minutes of extra scenes were shot in Los Angeles earlier this year and added to the beginning. The change has the story now starting with the lead couple in New York rather than arriving at Dubai International Airport.
Shooting the new scenes, coupled with the digital effects, writing a new score and doing a new edit added to the film’s time delays, claims Garin.
As for the rumours on one movie blog that suggested a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family had seen the film and instantly vetoed its release, Garin laughs it off.
“You actually believe that the Crown Prince had time to worry about a horror film? It’s so ludicrous. And if it were true, this movie wouldn’t be premiering. But somehow it gained traction for a while,” he says, adding that no scenes have been deleted.
Jammal is equally dismissive of the gossip. “There’s nothing in the movie that’s against the Islamic religion at all, it’s ridiculous,” she says. “There were a lot of rumours that came about, but I didn’t want to get affected as it was draining me, and to trust the universe a little bit.”
But while all the signs might suggest Jammal’s trust was justified, she’s not yet ready to celebrate Djinn’s imminent release.
“I still won’t believe it’s going to be out until I see it in the cinema.”
Thankfully, with her due to attend the world premiere in Abu Dhabi, she doesn’t have long to wait.
• Djinn premieres on Friday at 6pm at Emirates Palace as part of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. The film goes on general release in UAE cinemas on October 31