By Ryan Keating-Lambert
A genuine fright fest that like all good modern horrors, relies more on atmosphere than cheap jump scares. With the turbulent backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war and an extremely unnerving folk tale mixed in, Under the Shadow is more than worth your time.
In 1980s Tehran, wife and mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is forced to take care of her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) after her husband is sent to the front line. As Tehran begins to feel the full force of the war, Shideh notices strange presence in the flat. Something that wants her daughter.
Director Babak Anvari’s feature film debut is one that’s going to put him on the map. It’s scary as hell. This is a new breed of horror that relies more on tension and great performances than your average jump scare. Anvari drags you kicking and screaming into the tiny bubble of their life, and there you stay until the very end.
The contrast of the story with the war is perfect. That alarm goes off, and you’re left waiting in suspense for that inevitable rumble to follow. There’s a particularly haunting shot of a bomb just sitting in a living room after coming through the ceiling that reminded me of imagery from Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, another supernatural thriller that combines the presence of a ghost with the perils of war.
Every country has their scary folk tales and Iran’s Djinn are up there with the scariest. There have been countless tales of people invoking these demonic spirits for personal, and even political gain, but there is never too much given away in the narrative here, which is perhaps what makes it all the more mysterious and frightening.
There’s also an underlying feminist tone in Under the Shadow. Shideh is a powerful character with an anarchist past that prevents her from continuing her studies as a doctor. We are constantly reminded of her struggle to be taken seriously in a society that, especially in post-revolution Iran, really didn’t listen to women. She’s such a well established character and it’s impossible not to become attached.
Anvari has provided us with a well crafted supernatural thriller that was no doubt a standout at this year’s Festival of Iranian films and an overall standout of 2016. Perhaps this will be the Iranian film that will cross over into Hollywood. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anvari is given a Marvel film in the near future. Seems to be the trend these days.
Under the Shadow is also available to watch on Netflix. Check it out today.
Photo: Bloody Disgusting