One fantastic aspect of cinema is how readily it can plop viewers into different countries, cultures, religions, and so on. Director Nayla Al Khaja’s debut feature film, Three, is an exorcism movie. As such, it hits several expected beats during its 93-minute runtime. But it is three djinns being exorcised from a young Muslim boy. Couple that with some decent characterizations and creepy visuals, and there’s more than enough here to recommend.
Written by Nayla Al Khaja, Ben Williams, John Collee, and Masoud Amralla Al Ali, the movie follows Ahmed (Saud Alzarooni). He’s a young boy who is close to his mother, Maryam (Faten Ahmed), and aunt Noora (Noura Alabed). Due to a stutter and his mom being divorced, which is highly frowned upon in Muslim culture, he is bullied in his Western school. So, when Ahmed begins to experience persistent headaches and hearing voices, Maryam assumes it is due to these issues. Enter Dr. Mark Holly (Jefferson Hall), a foreigner who relies on evidence and years of experience as opposed to religious “folklore” to inform his decisions. The problem is that all the medical examinations reveal nothing.
After Ahmed attacks his teacher in front of the whole class, Noora contacts a specialist. Said person is a mullah, a scholar well-versed in Islamic theology and sacred law. Mulla Yousef (Mohannad Huthail) discovers three djinns possess the boy. With that many evil spirits in him, can Ahmed survive the exorcism? Will Mulla Yousef be able to rid all the djinns from the child before it is too late for everyone?
“…discovers three djinns possess the boy.”
Three spends its first half establishing the relationships between everyone. Noora and Dr. Holly’s flirtatious repartee is quite delightful. Maryam’s love for Ahmed is never in question. This helps establish the personal stakes for all the characters and invests viewers in the exorcism’s outcome. Al Khaja lights most of this drama-horror hybrid like a family drama, making the horror elements all the more striking as they increase in volume until the third act. It certainly helps that the cast is good as well.
Of course, this is still an exorcism film. That means typical story points are present. The exorcism is put into peril by someone not following instructions. Ahmed goes from writhing and speaking like an evil entity to normal, only to switch back. If you’ve seen one exorcism movie, several moments in the last 20 or so minutes are business as usual. Still, they are well done and hold a certain creepiness.
Three might tell an exorcism story, but that doesn’t mean it is unoriginal. The use of Muslim and Islamic lore and cultural specifics creates a backdrop that adds deeper meaning than expected. The characterizations and family dramatics that precede the horror are excellently handled and keep all watching engaged. The exorcism itself isn’t exactly original, but it is scary and well-filmed.
For more information, visit the official Three site.
"…cinema [can] readily it can plop viewers into different countries, cultures, religions..."