“Djinn freaked me out,” says its lead actress Razane Jammal

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Razan Jamal 1

Image Nation’s first horror film, Djinn premiered at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival on October 26th, followed by a public release in the UAE on October 30th – just in time for Halloween. The film follows an Emirati couple who move from their home in New York to an apartment block in Ras Al Khaimah ( RAK), only to find it is being haunted by malevolent beings. The lead actress Razane Jammal who recently appeared in Kanye West critically acclaimed art film Cruel Summer tells Manju Ramanan about some fascinating insight into the creation of the film – including how she sunk into a sort of depression following filming, where she felt as though she were ‘haunted’ and visited a spiritual retreat in LA to help her separate herself from the fictional film and her reality.

Tell us about the film and your experience while filming it in RAK?

The movie is about a couple that moves back to the UAE after living for a couple of years in New York. From the moment they arrive to Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), things go from bad to worse in just a day. I am so relieved that I didn’t actually have to film any scenes in RAK or else I would have freaked out; we filmed mostly in Dubai.

Razan Jammal 2

Why does horror as a genre appeal to people? Does it appeal to you?

I guess horror films appeal to people for many different reasons. For one, it treats a subject that people think about and addresses their fears. In addition, horror movies are accessible to the general audience because the films usually follow a simple storyline. The objectives are clear, the threat is obvious and the intention of the main protagonist is evident (ie. To get away from the danger or to fight it). Also, the tension is high and it translates from the screen to the movie theatre; some people thrive on that emotion.

I personally stay away from horror films as I don’t particularly enjoy violence. In addition, I have lived alone for quite a long time and I don’t want any ideas put in my head; I’m already paranoid as is it and have a very vivid imagination.

Have you grown up listening to stories of Djinns and supernatural beings?

No, I was not familiar with the Djinn.

How does faith help you to deal with issues such as fear of the unknown?

I consider myself to be a very spiritual person rather than religious. I have a deep faith in God as I understand him and my faith strengthened after the film.

Tell us about your phase after filming Djinn and how did you cope up with it?

In general, actors get down after a film, it’s some sort of post-shooting blues. In addition, the hours were long and my role was demanding. We would spend sometimes a whole day working on a scene which can be exhausting especially when I am required to cry and scream most of the time. By the end of the movie, I was drained and fell into a depression. I was uncontrollably crying all the time, I wasn’t sleeping nor eating and I was increasingly paranoid. I owned up to how I felt and allowed myself to live it fully. Thankfully, I got to a point where I was tired of feeling down and took matters into my own hands.

You were part of a spiritual retreat to recharge your energy – tell us about the experience?

I went to a juice fasting and spiritual retreat in the desert of Palm Springs for only 3 days and It was enough to set me back on track. I cleansed my body from all the toxins, meditated in the desert, practiced yoga and tai-chi. This was perfect for me as the energy in the desert is great and I got all the rest and recreation I needed. I consulted a spiritual healer who gave me the best advice and helped me get rid of all the negative energy that was lingering inside of me. Once I left, I was back to myself and continued practicing yoga on a daily basis.

Razan Jammal at Cannes

Were you scared during the filming?

I was more scared off-screen than on-screen. Although, I felt some fear on the set, I was always surrounded by people and felt protected. The hardest thing was going back to an empty hotel room and being on my own.

Does each region has its own set of horror beings and stories that are popular – vampires and werewolves might not work in this part of the world in an Arab film?

Even though the vampires and werewolves myths generate mostly from the western world, we now live in an increasingly globalised world which makes these “monsters” relevant for everyone. If an Arab film decides to make movies about them, I don’t see why they wouldn’t work. That being said, I think the Djinn is the true “vampire” of the Middle-East and will be the most popular “demon” as they are part of the Arab culture.

Any creepy encounters during filming?

Everyone was sharing his creepy stories on set but nothing happened to me out of the ordinary. In fact, all Hell broke loose after the filming.

How did you and your co- stars synergise working through the scary scenes?

I had to shoot most of the scary scenes on my own so I had to work with my imagination and really put myself in Salama’s shoes. I rehearsed with my co-stars and went over the lines but we saved our emotions for the shoot.