Hwjn review: Charming cast work their magic as Saudi bestseller excels on big screen

Ibraheem Abbas’s fantasy romance novel about jinn who falls in love with a human deftly adapted into blockbuster

Saudi actress Alanoud Saud plays Jumana in Hwjn. Photo: Image Nation
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Fifteen minutes into Hwjn, I'm worried that Ibraheem Abbas’s fantasy romance novel should never have been adapted.

Directed by Yasir Alyasiri, who co-wrote the screenplay for the Saudi blockbuster with Abbas, the opening salvo of Hwjn packs in so much information that the film nearly stalls before its plot has even started moving.

Hwjn, pronounced "haw-jen", begins by depicting a stereotypical jinn, or evil genie. However, as it turns out, the film's protagonist Hwjn (Baraa Alem) is only watching a movie in a cinema. Over narration, he goes on to reveal how jinn have families and jobs like humans. They can co-exist in the world with humans.

But while jinn can look at humans, humans can't see them and communication between the two is forbidden.

With the ancient rules established, the film focuses on Hwjn, who looks 20 but is actually 92.

He shares a home with his mother and grandfather on the outskirts of Jeddah. Soon, the Abdulraheem family – humans – move in and he falls in love with their only daughter Sawsan (Nour Alkhadra). When she begins to feel Hwjn’s presence, he decides to use an iPad and Ouija board to communicate with her.

HWJN

Director: Yasir Alyasiri

Starring: Baraa Alem, Nour Alkhadra, Alanoud Saud

Rating: 3/5

Sawsan’s inability to see Hwjn isn’t the only complication to their potential relationship. She already has a boyfriend, fellow medical student Eyad (Mohsen Mansoor), and is suffering from a brain tumour.

Meanwhile, the evil Master Xanam (Naif Aldaferi) learns Hwjn is secretly jinn royalty. Xanam needs Hwjn to marry his sister Jumara (Alanoud Saud) to ensure his own safety.

Xanam puts a curse on Sawsan and blackmails Hwjn into marrying Jumara so they can have a child, who will be the “chosen one".

After this, Hwjn is taken to the jinn’s land and is stuck between two warring tribes fighting to take over the world. Here, he is propelled to fulfil his destiny while simultaneously trying to save Sawsan.

Once Hwjn has finally established its world, the story steams ahead thanks to the chemistry between Alem and Alkhadra. There’s a sweetness to their connection, especially since they both feel so alienated in their own worlds.

Alyasiri deserves credit for taking his time to develop their bond. He’s also not afraid to showcase how their growing feelings for each other impact the likeable supporting characters around them.

The film is helped by a fine supporting cast, each of whom can elevate what is at times a cheesy and melodramatic script. Khaled Alkamaar's original score, which is influenced by the work of John Williams, also helps to add weight to scenes.

Hwjn’s fantasy inspirations are pretty obvious throughout, as it swings from feeling like Harry Potter to Star Wars, with Dune thrown in for good measure, too. However, it is adept at putting its own spin on the genre, too, while ensuring heroes and villains feel authentic.

By the end, Hwjn manages to inject a pathos that most other family-friendly blockbusters avoid, as well as remaining hopeful. It also feels refreshing because its finale is swift and modest in manner, unlike the elongated slugfests that round out titles of this ilk in Hollywood.

Those who find obvious dialogue and blatant exposition grating will have to ignore much of its script. Plus, there are also moments where sub-par visual effects take viewers out of the storytelling.

However, there's more to like than dislike in Hwjn, which, unsurprisingly, leaves the door open for sequels.

Now that the hard work of laying down its narrative foundations is out of the way, and with a young and well-cast ensemble at its disposal, there’s every chance its potential successors will thrive, too.

Updated: January 03, 2024, 10:17 AM
HWJN

Director: Yasir Alyasiri

Starring: Baraa Alem, Nour Alkhadra, Alanoud Saud

Rating: 3/5