Inside Nayla Al Khaja’s UAE horror film ‘The Shadow’

The Emirati director recounts childhood horrors for her first feature

Nayla Al Khaja could have horror gold on her hands.

The Emirati director — and self-proclaimed ‘queen of shorts’ — is developing her first full-length feature film, an Arabic-language supernatural thriller titled ‘The Shadow’.

The script is inspired by the ‘horrific’ real-life experience of her young relative who was ‘very, very sick’, leading family members to believe he’s possessed.

“Some of the stuff that we experienced was quite horrific. The family was divided — [half of them] thought it was possession and mainly [focused on] the topics of exorcism and Islam. The other half believed it was just a neurological issue,” said Al Khaja.

One incident in particular has been burned into the filmmaker’s memory.

As a young child, she watched through the balustrade as the teenaged boy in question — around 14 or 15 years old at the time — cried.

“Then he stopped, so we all thought he died for a second. [But] when the athan [call to prayer] happened, there was an infant sound that came out of him. It was like someone just delivered a baby and he started crying in a baby voice,” recalled Al Khaja.

“In real life, he does imitate voices, so there’s always a reason where you think, ‘OK, maybe this is not as romantic as we think.’ But it was a struggle. It was a year-and-a-half massive struggle [of] how far a mother would go to save her son.

“I was really interested in those incidents that happened in front of me — it was very visceral, so that’s what I would like to expand on in the future film, to make it as real as possible.”

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