You've all seen supernatural forces terrorise families in countless horror films down the years but never quite like this. Iranian-born Babak Anvari uses the backdrop of the 1980’s Iran/Iraq war to create a nerve-jangling, suffocating atmosphere of political instability and terrifying apparitions.
Under the Shadow follows the story of Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a dejected house wife who can no longer continue at medical school due to her involvement with leftist groups during the Islamic revolution. Her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi), who is allowed to be a doctor, is called to the centre of the conflict leaving Shideh and their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) alone in their increasingly unsafe Tehran apartment. When an unexploded missile hits their apartment building a troubling, malevolent djinn (evil spirits that travel on the wind) begins to victimise Shideh and Dorsa.
Although the basic premise may lead audiences to draw comparisons with 2014 critical hit The Babadook, Anvari's directional début is dealing with far more than just parental anxiety. In one scene Shideh flees from the demonic djinn haunting her apartment only to be detained for not wearing a heard-scarf while outdoors. Shideh finds herself trapped between the supernatural entity haunting her apartment and the oppressive politics of war-torn Iran. These cultural pressures complete an all-encompassing sense of dread throughout the film – there's simply no escape for Shiedh and her daughter. Consequently Shideh's feelings of isolation, marginalisation and helplessness take on an even greater potency. Maternal indifference
As well as working on this overtly political level Under the Shadow also functions as an affecting family drama. Rashidi steals the show; her subtle expressions and body language deftly capture Shideh's escalating sense of impotency, entrapment and maternal angst. Manshadi puts in a naturalistic performance beyond her years and as a result her mother-daughter dynamic with Rashidi is utterly believable and engaging. Anvari's sharp direction of the day-to-day life of the apartment building and the constant threats they face also helps bring these characters vividly to life. Likewise, the spot on set design, particularly Rashidi's apartment with its honey coloured tiles and pale green fridge-freezer, adds an authenticity which heightens the unnerving impact of the paranormal forces at play.
Although Under the Shadow relies heavily on mood, with few overt scares, the whole film is so meticulously constructed that you’re on edge even before anything creepy actually shows up. The superb sound design is partly to praise for creating such an atmosphere, using the sound of breathing to chilling effect and making the sprinkling of jump scares some of the most frightening you'll see all year.
the Shadow effectively uses historical
context and cultural issues to draw nuance and complexity from the horror
genre, while acting as an impressive calling card for Anvari.
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10