Three: Sleeping demons will keep you wide awake

A mother grows increasingly worried about her son’s strange behaviour, turning to various “professionals” for help.

Feb 10, 2024 - 13:31
Three: Sleeping demons will keep you wide awake

Three: Sleeping demons will keep you wide awake

Cast: Faten Ahmed, Jefferson Hall, Saud Alzarooni, Noura Alabed, Mohannad Huthail, Abdulrazzaq Al Khaja, Kelly B. Jones, Amna Rehman

Critic’s Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

Director: Nayla Al Khaja

Duration: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller

Language: English, Arabic

Release Date: 2023

What’s it about?

A mother grows increasingly worried about her son’s strange behaviour, turning to various “professionals” for help.


Viewers are in for a low-key but effective horror movie which dwells on the premise: where does superstition end and where does practicality begin? Inspired by films about demonic intrusion like The Exorcist and The Conjuring franchises, this flick is a worthy addition to the genre. Three serves up quite a few chills and shudders which help enliven the narrative’s occasional sluggishness. The film is also populated with several distinctive characters and their interactions are robust and relatable. These lead to an ominous yet somewhat ambiguous conclusion which is likely to stir up conjecture and debate.

The movie begins by introducing us to 12-year-old schoolboy Ahmed (Saud Alzarooni), who is injury-prone and suffers from headaches and insomnia. His single mother Maryam (Faten Ahmed), while running a prosperous business, is perturbed by her son’s persistent and mysterious condition. A voice-over from his estranged father posits that Ahmed has been deprived of his attention, causing the boy to act out negatively. While being a good student, the youngster has trouble fitting in with his classmates and is subject to bullying. 

Meanwhile, his religious aunt Noora (Noura Alabed) is convinced that Ahmed is the victim of what she calls the “Evil Eye”. She also attributes Ahmed’s malaise to the fact that his mother has strayed from her Islamic faith by ignoring rituals and rarely reading from the Holy Book. However, despite her misgivings and protests, the distraught Maryam allows her sister to take them to a Muslim priest – Mullah Khalil. But is this man a genuine healer or a charlatan? Maryam doesn’t wait long enough to find out and pulls her son away after the boy gets severely spooked.

Over the following days Ahmed has incurred another impediment and lashes out violently at a fellow-student who humiliates him about it. His desperate mother turns to the allopathic Dr. Mark Holly (Jefferson Hall) for help. But his observations and treatment of Ahmed yield no effective results while the boy’s psychotic episodes increase in occurrence and intensity. A disgruntled and sceptical Noora mocks the doctor’s approach and questions his true motives. Does he have the answer or does it lie in the hands of holy men?

Producer-Writer-Director Nayla Al Khaja, who had covered similar ground in her short film The Shadow (2019), seems to have overshadowed that effort with this one. Extracting credible performances from her stars and pacing the narrative in a deliberate manner, Al Khaja activates a crescendo of suspense. However, the presence of Ahmed’s errant father and evidence of his strained relationship with the boy is lacking. Also, some scenes are gratuitous and don’t adequately contribute to the story’s progression. Still, hats off to young Alzarooni, whose nuances of menacing behaviour perfectly depict his troubled character (or characters) and feed the tense ambience he finds himself in. Three is a welcome deviation to over-the-top and in-your-face horror flicks, presenting the audience with more subtlety and dare we say it, humanity.

Ronak Kotecha Senior Journalist and seasoned content creator with 18-years-experience at channels like Times Now, NewsX, Zoom and Radio City. Now, Rotten Tomatoes accredited global critic for the Times of India and BBC India Correspondent in Dubai. Talk show host at Talk100.3, tune in weekdays at 11 am on