Arabic cinema often seems to follow the same blueprint for its movies. This blueprint frequently features a family settling into a new home, only to discover it’s plagued by Djinn or a man seeking wealth who strikes a bargain with these supernatural beings. Or where a Djinn materializes to punish those who’ve failed to honor their deals. As a result, the horror plays out like a repetitive tune. In Mahmoud Kamel’s latest horror thriller, The Prisoner (or Al Sajeen in Arabic), this design remains intact. The story centers around a family seeking comfort in their new home, hoping to escape the haunting memories of their past. Little do they realize that the horrors they’ll find in this house will eclipse any pain they’ve endured before.
Why Did Rawan And Ammar Move Into A New House?
The Prisoner begins with a middle-aged man shooting a woman in the back. The woman desperately tries to crawl to safety, but the next bullet kills her. Next, the man willingly bathes in oil and sets fire to himself while looking at the painting in front of him. The man doesn’t even utter a word, suggesting that he might be possessed. The movie introduces us to Elham Ali and Ammar (Khalid Al-Saqer), who have just moved into a new house with their daughter, Reem. In reality, Rawan (Elham Ali) had another child, but things turned awry, and he died in the hospital. Even though Rawan never said it outright, the look in her eyes convinced Ammar that he was to blame for what happened. This is where Nayaf, Ammar’s partner, came in. He offered his other home to Ammar and his family so they could relax and try to forget what happened. Before Nayaf leaves, he takes Ammar into his father’s room, which now functions as a storage room following his untimely death. What Rawan and Ammar thought would be a way to escape their painful memories soon turned into their biggest mistake.
Is The Painting Haunted?
We see that Rawan and Ammar have drifted apart in their relationship. They don’t comfort each other like they used to. Even though they sleep in the same bed, they’re strangers. Furthermore, Rawan chides Reem for bringing her sister’s toy with him without asking her. Ammar tries to intervene, but Rawan, instead of calming down, asks Reem to get out of the room. Whenever Ammar tries talking to her, she either gives him the cold shoulder or outright ignores him. Things turn interesting when Rawan uncovers a painting hidden behind some old drapes in the store room after hearing some whispers. For some reason, she wants to hang the painting up. She asks Ammar to do so, and he agrees. Ammar hangs the painting, and Rawan couldn’t be any more excited to see it in the living room. The painting also has an interesting history; it was uncovered by the Jordanian mission some 100 years ago. The painting hung on the walls of a man named Sultan. It’s obvious that the painting is harboring some evil entity. The whispers and strange sightings of clowns in the middle of the night cement this theory.
How Does Rawan’s Behavior Change?
Rawan’s behavior changes the day she hangs the painting in her living room. She begins to scold Reem without any reason. Her behavior towards Ammar also deteriorates to the point when she starts outright pointing her fingers at his face, threatening Ammar not to advise her on raising her daughter. Sometimes, Ammar even catches Rawan, devoid of any facial expressions, standing still, looking at the painting for hours.
Rawan also keeps seeing her dead son, Rayan, running in the hallway, standing in the living room, and near the swimming pool. However, whenever Rawan tries to make contact, he vanishes into thin air, like he was never there to begin with. Things take a turn for the worse when she relentlessly starts beating Reem, blaming her for touching Rayan’s toy, not realizing that it is actually the painting’s doing. One night, she walked into Ammar’s study unannounced, blaming him for killing Rayan. Ammar finally reaches his breaking point and pours his frustration on his wife. He states that it was Rawan’s negligence that got Rayan admitted to the hospital, where he died. After Rawan and Reem, the evil inside the painting set its sights on Ammar. He starts seeing his evil doppelgänger, who deliberately cuts himself, hinting that something bad is on the horizon. Moreover, Ammar is berated by his wife for being irresponsible, but when he looks away for a second, he finds her sleeping in the bed like nothing happened. Rawan grounds Reem after she tries to burn the painting. But why? In reality, Reem woke up in the middle of the night and touched the painting. It showed her haunting visions of a woman willingly slitting her throat in front of the mirror, dead twins lying in the pool of their own blood, and a man setting himself on fire.
What’s Living Inside The Painting?
Ammar concludes that everything that is happening to Reem and Rawan is somehow connected to the painting. He takes the painting off the wall and throws it into the store-room, where Rawan first found it. The following morning, everything seemed to be normal. Rawan fails to recall anything that she has done in the last few weeks. She even apologizes to everyone and cooks a delicious breakfast. However, Ammar’s reservations get the better of him when he finds Rawan digging a grave in their garden. Ammar decides to investigate the engravings on the painting and contacts Mr. Youssef, an expert in witchcraft and talismans.
According to him, it is not known who painted the painting or when, but it is the prison of an ancient and evil Djinn that feeds on blood. The blood spilling around it extends its lifespan until there comes a time when it becomes free. Youssef further states that Djinn enhances the flaws and darkness inside one’s heart and uses them to eventually destroy its victims. The only reason Djinn is not able to control or hurt Reem is because she doesn’t have any flaws or darkness inside of her. However, the Djinn has the power to turn Ammar and Rawan against her, endangering her life. This is what it did to the family we saw at the beginning of the movie. The Djinn possessed the patriarch and his wife and made them murder their children. The duo took their own lives as well.
How Did The Family Escape The Djinn’s Horror?
Ammar grabs a knife from the kitchen, hoping to destroy the painting, but Rawan intervenes, stating that no one is touching the painting. Ammar gives her a choice: either she lets him destroy the painting, or they leave the house at once. Rawan agrees with the latter. On the road, the couple begins turning against one another, blaming each other for Rayan’s death. However, Nayef, under the Djinn’s possession, threatens Ammar into revealing why he didn’t come when Rayan was taking his final breath in the hospital. In reality, Ammar was under the impression that Rayan’s condition wasn’t serious. However, after learning the truth, he tried to book a flight right away, but it was already too late. But this was all just a dream Ammar and Rawan were having. Sadly, Rawan remembers the conversation they were having in the car. The Djinn managed to turn them against one another. Ammar decides to burn the painting, but Rawan stops him, as she doesn’t want to lose the only thing that can help her connect with her dead son. The Djinn had promised her that it would bring Rayan back to life if she killed Ammar. Rawan, under the Djinn’s influence, attacks him. Rawan also tries attacking Reem, but Ammar intervenes in time and knocks her unconscious with a bat. Sadly, he’s been stabbed in the process. Reem then takes matters into her own hands and sets the painting on fire, finally ending the horror. The movie ends with the family walking out of the house.
What Happens In Mid-Credits Scene?
The Prisoner also has a brief post-credit scene wherein we see Nayef, Ammar’s friend, lending his house to someone on the phone. We also catch a glimpse of the same painting hanging on the wall. But how? It’s possible that the Djinn and Nayef are in cahoots. Nayef rents his house to other people at a very low cost, providing Djinn with fresh blood to feed on. In return, the Djinn provides him with success and wealth.
When it comes to Djinn-themed horror, this film is the David Copperfield of the bunch, conjuring up its scares without relying on any flashy visual effects. It raises the suspense using the characters’ dark deeds, like digging a grave in the middle of the garden, which leaves CGI spectacles in the dust. Elham Ali’s turn as Rawan, the grieving mother, is a cinematic rollercoaster that you’ll want to ride again and again. You can practically taste the tears; her emotional journey is so striking that it’s like sharing her living room, where the painting is hanging. However, there’s a downside as well. The Djinn in the movie could’ve used an overhaul. It’s dressed like someone attending a costume party, the one we saw in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, not the menacing entity the plot deserves. It’s like bringing a rubber chicken to Thanksgiving—close to culinary perfection but missing that final touch of finesse.