Jinn, Netflix’s first Arabic language property, follows a group of high school students as they navigate the supernatural. On a school trip to Petra, Jordan, a student dies in an accident, following which strange events begin to occur around the survivors. Despite general antipathy towards extra-normal events, the students begin to accept that Jinn may be involved. It isn’t long before the hapless group are caught up in an age-old war between good and evil.
The first season of Jinn is surprisingly short—only five episodes long—but this is less a testament to the strength of the story, and more about Netflix testing the waters with this new venture. Most of Netflix’s original foreign-language fare tends to be at least eight episodes long—such as the apocalyptic Brazilian thriller 3%, and the German time-traveling adventure, Dark—but with streaming numbers in the Arab World relatively low, it isn’t surprising that Netflix has taken the cautious route.
Having said that, over the course of the five episodes of Jinn, Netflix manages to pack in a fair amount of action, suspense, and character building. By the end of the first episode, we have met the main cast of characters, and have an inkling of where they are headed and why certain decisions are being made. From then on, it’s a matter of developing the plot and moving towards a resolution.
The cast of characters is fairly large in Jinn, and almost every one of them has an important part to play in the progression of the narrative. I love that Netflix cast Jordanian actors in a Jordan-based show, many of whom are unknowns, at the start of their careers. The acting isn’t always up to par but it isn’t bad enough to detract from the story. I also like that the cast is fairly varied in appearance, something that Netflix seems to be working at with most of their original material.
Our protagonist is Mira (Salma Malhas), a regular high school student who has more tragedy in her past than is initially revealed. Alongside Mira is her best friend, Layla (Ban Halaweh), who has recently broken up with Nasser (Mohammad Nizar). Though Layla and Nasser try to remain friends, it is fairly obvious that they’re still interested in pursuing a relationship.
We then have Nasser’s circle of friends, including Mira’s boyfriend, Fahed (Yasser Al Hadi), Jameel (Karam Tabbaa), and the school bully, Tareq (Abdelrazzaq Jarkas). On the sidelines of this group are Yassin (Sultan Alkhail), Tarek’s favourite target, Hassan (Zaid Zoubi), the resident weird kid, and Omar (Mohammad Hindieh), Hassan’s long-suffering friend.
Introduced partway through episode one is Yassin’s mysterious new girlfriend, Vera (Aysha Shahaltough), and Keras (Hamzeh Okab), a Bedouin with unknown intentions.
Among the handful of adults on Jinn are Ms. Ola (Hana Chamoun), the kindly teacher caught in the Jinn storm, Mira’s father Khaled (Eyad Hourani), Yassin’s mother, Lubna (Manal Sehaimat), and Yassin’s evil step-father Zuhair (Nadeem Rimawi).
Though there are a lot of characters in just five episodes, Jinn’s solid writing ensures that audiences are never at a loss regarding who they are and how they relate to each other. With such a short season to play with, the writers make the smart decision to group the characters together, with only Mira and Hassan ever getting solo scenes.
This technique works in Jinn’s favour, not only to establish the characters but also to build suspense, which this show has plenty of. I found myself internally screaming several times because of the unexpected twists, and also because I had become so invested in the characters, a remarkable feat to achieve in such a short season.
It helps that, after the initial shocking events of the first episode, Jinn takes a moment to establish the lives of the characters at home. We learn that Mira’s mother and brother have died, and that neither she nor her father, are coping well with the loss. We see how Yassin’s mother is in an abusive relationship she can’t leave, which makes Yassin’s desire to gain power through magic much more understandable. Then there’s Hassan, who has always been interested in strange things, but really only wants to belong. And Fahed, who so strongly believes that he should be with Mira, that he will do anything to gain her affection, which, of course, leads to him driving her away instead.
In that sense, Jinn is as much a coming-of-age story for the characters, rather than just a standard supernatural narrative. For anyone who has consistently watched Netflix’s foreign-language material, character-driven stories are to be expected, so I’m glad this trend continued with Jinn. The characters are undoubtedly Jinn’s greatest strength, and the primary draw to watch more of the series.
What I absolutely adore about Jinn is how it manages to avoid tropes. Mira is not a damsel in distress, nor is she lovelorn. She is happy in her relationship with Fahed, until she isn’t, and unabashedly makes her feelings for Keras clear. But beyond romance, she’s a DJ who looks for music everywhere, and a sleuth at heart who is always up for an adventure. As a woman of colour, Mira is the kind of character I would have loved to see growing up, and I am thrilled that a generation of Eastern viewers will get to see her and identify with her.
The only hiccup, for me, was Yassin’s abused mother, Lubna, especially as we never really learn why she is with Zuhair. I feel like this is something that will be expanded on in the next season, but considering how much screen-time Yassin’s family was given, I would have liked some understanding behind her motivations.
But Lubna’s lack of arc in no way discounts the story, which continuously builds on the events of the first episode. The Jinn seem to be everywhere and nowhere, and even at the end of the season, we aren’t completely sure which Jinn are trustworthy, and who has or hasn’t been possessed. I love that the season gives the audience just enough mythos about the Jinn to understand the story, but not enough that one can easily figure out what’s going to happen next.
Which is why the ending of the first season has left me wanting so much more. Without giving away any spoilers, I was surprised at that twist in the final scene. I didn’t expect it, but it makes complete sense in hindsight. It also makes me wonder how chaotic the next season is going to be—aside from Mira, we now have no idea whose intentions and actions we can trust. I tell you, I need the second season right now! Give me answers, Netflix.
I do want to go beyond the story a bit, however. I have never been to Jordan, though it’s definitely on my bucket list, but I have lived in the Middle East for many years. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the content in Jinn. The characters unabashedly kiss each other, smoke, and drink alcohol. This isn’t out of the ordinary in Netflix fare—the Spanish language Elite has so much more—but Middle Eastern audiences have generally been considered to be conservative.
These scenes have faced some backlash among Jordanian audiences, which is unfortunate because they are quite tame in a global context, and they also aren’t showing anything that isn’t already happening. But from what I understand, only a small group have vocalised their discontent, and that shouldn’t impact the reception Jinn receives. At least, I hope not. I really want good things for Jinn and everyone involved in the production, because watching Arabic language content with such high production values made me feel very happy.
I was excited for Jinn the moment I saw the trailer, and the show did not disappoint. Although I wish we had more than five episodes, the cliffhanger ending is a fantastic way to make audiences desperate for more, so I can’t complain. The writing was strong throughout, and even with some patchy acting, there was so much to enjoy and plenty of edge-of-your-seat suspense that makes for a great marathon-watch.
More than anything else, I love that Jinn avoids falling into tropes, for the most part, giving us characters that are fairly real and relatable. This season has been an enjoyable experience and I hope to see it grow bigger and better with succeeding installments.