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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) Jinn - Review

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Jinn is a powerful coming of age story from screenwriter and debut director Nijla Mu’min that has something to say, and does so loud and clear, painting a refreshingly positive depiction of Muslim culture in America that we don't get to see enough of on screen. Thanks to powerhouse performances from the equally gifted Zoe Renee and Luke Cage's Simone Missick, this family/coming of age drama excels in all the right ways, exploring the nature of complex relationships and looking at how converting to religions late in life can have a severe change on a person's worldview, and their relationships with those around them.

We first meet Summer as a carefree, pepperoni-pizza loving teenage girl who is a talented dancer awaiting to hear back from her next level in education. Zoe Renee puts her heart and soul into Summer's character in what emerges as a breakout performance, enabling the audience to get inside her head and see what makes her tick with little difficulty. However, the performances are not where the problems lie, and the film is at its weakest when it puts into action some of the contrivances and tropes that are popular in coming of age movies. A lecture where the teacher sets a homework assignment asking Summer "What is identity?" is one of the biggest offenders in this film and the scene sticks out like a sore thumb. But mercifully, it's short-lived and it shouldn't let that detract you from the experience of Jinn, especially as it happens so early on. It's hard not to get swept up in Summer's story regardless, thanks in no small part due to Renee's performance that should establish her as someone with a great career in front of her.

Missick's character, Jade Jennings, is just as compelling to watch as Summer. A single mother having split from her husband, she is a powerful weather anchor who clearly knows what she's talking about and is watched by members of her community who have nothing but good things to say about her. The story is as much about Jade as it is about Summer, carefully crafting her character to create someone who leaps from phase to phase, never tying herself down to on thing for long. At one point, she was both a "New Age Black Panther and a Buddhist" at the same time, so it's no surprise that Summer is initially reluctant to embrace her mother's new religion when Jade visits a mosque and starts wearing a headscarf. There are remarkable standout scenes that happen at Jade's job when her spiritual awakening affects how her fellow co-workers view her, and it sends an important, message in regards to how she handles it. She's not going to be backing down any time soon.

But as things change and progress further, Summer finds herself questioning more about her identity and who she is. Can she be a good Muslim and enjoy what she loves? Jade doesn't seem to think so, and it's the mother-daughter conflict that feels so prevalent over the course of the film, and whilst comparisons to Lady Bird may be drawn, Jinn does a good job at finding its own voice.

Colour bounces off the screen in Jinn and it is vibrant, full of energy and life. The cinematography is wonderful and the palette used in this film works wonders with the atmosphere that Mu'min creates. The authentic-ism and attention to detail grounds the film in reality, making everything all the more believable and engrossing when everything comes to a head in a truly memorable third act that will make you realise just how much you've come to care about the characters over the course of the film.

Tickets for Jinn are currently available for the London Film Festival in October for UK-based readers, but only on Friday 12 October and Saturday 14. You can buy them here.

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