x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The many faces of modern mysticism

Mythical spirits are set to dominate the near future's entertainment landscape with the forthcoming release of two very different films dealing with the jinn.

An eerie-looking scene from the forthcoming film Jinn featuring the 'Firebreather' car. Courtesy Exxodus Pictures
An eerie-looking scene from the forthcoming film Jinn featuring the 'Firebreather' car. Courtesy Exxodus Pictures

There can't be too many things that link Ras Al Khaimah with the US state of Michigan, but sometime later this year the two are likely to collide in the most unlikely of fashions. The connection: mystical spirits.

Film fans in the UAE will have known about Djinn, the Tobe Hooper-directed horror featuring supernatural creatures, for some time. Produced by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, owned by Abu Dhabi Media Company which also owns The National, the film is set in an abandoned Ras Al Khaimah fishing village and was due out late last year. However, under a cloud of rumours in January, it has now been put back to summer, reportedly due to post-production issues.

In any case, Djinn will have to pull its spiritual socks up, because hot on its heels is another film about the same subject, Jinn. Produced by the Michigan-based Exxodus Pictures and written and directed by the company's co-founder, Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, Jinn is now ready for release, with post-production recently wrapped up at the Warner Bros Studios in California.

While Ras Al Khaimah's Djinn is clearly of the horror genre, with the trailer depicting a couple who discover their new apartment block (built on an old fishing village) isn't likely to offer them much peace and quiet, Michigan's Jinn is - according to Ahmad - a wholly different beast.

"Although we're kind of tricking people into thinking it's a scary film, this is a much more in-depth telling of the many different angles of the jinn," he says, adding that he conducted thorough research into the myths surrounding the creatures.

"People always link it to Arabia, to the Quran, to Islam, but if you do research into this concept, you tend to find out that it existed long before."

Ahmad, whose family comes from India and Pakistan, says that he recalls being warned about the jinn when he was a child.

"My mum would tell me, 'If you don't eat your veggies, the jinn will come get you', and I remember wondering why nobody had made a movie about them, apart from cartoons like the genie in the lamp."

Together with these family stories and "old wives' tales", Ahmad drew upon religious and historical documentation to draw up his jinn.

"If you think of the genie in the magic lamp, that is to jinn what Casper the Friendly Ghost is to ghosts."

The story for the film concerns a young man in Michigan who starts to experience that typical screen phenomenon: strange things. "He has to find out what exactly is this, where did it come from and how to stop it," says Ahmad, who says that, rather than a monster or ghost, the audience is going to be introduced to the jinn.

"He learns that there has been a long history in his family of interactions with the jinn, and has to find out where it came from, why it's after him and how is he going to stop it."

Eventually, the story is set to climax into something bigger than both Michigan and, indeed, Ras Al Khaimah.

"We're planting the seeds of this epic battle between good and evil that has raged on even before mankind ever existed."

It all seems worlds away from the dusty fishing villages in Ras Al Khaimah, but the presence of these two productions shows that there is definitely some potential around the subject.

"People are doing vampires and zombies over and over and over again," says Ahmad. "One of the lines we use in the film is that the concept of jinn is an idea that half the world already believes in. It's also an idea that half the world has never heard of before."

But which will make it to screens first?

"If Djinn comes out before us, it doesn't matter. It's a very different movie to ours - like a very standard haunted-house movie. Ours is much larger in scope."


To view a video of the making of Image Nation Abu Dhabi's forthcoming film Djinn in Ras Al Khaimah last year, go to www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/film/djinn-behind-the-scenes