Under The Shadow Movie Review
Written by Simon Bland
Released by Vertigo Films
Written and Directed by Babak Anvari
2016, 84 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released 30th September 2016
Narges Rashidi as Shideh
Avrin Manshadi as Dorsa
Bobby Naderi as Iraj
Ray Haratian as Mr Ebrahimi
Iran has a lot going on but, political stuff aside, one of its most notable offerings of late has been its stellar cinema output, particularly in the horror genre. From Sharam Mokri’s devilishly dark slasher Fish & Cat to Ana Lily Amirpour’s ace looking (and sounding) vamp tale A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Iranian filmmakers seem to have a natural knack for crafting smart, compelling stories with considerable depth. Now the country has a new and exciting voice to add to its roster of directors that like to keep us up at night and he goes by the name of Babak Anvari.
For his debut feature, this newcomer certainly makes an impression. Under The Shadow is set against a backdrop of war-torn Tehran in the mid-eighties, where the fighting has become a tiresome but still deadly background noise. Missiles pierce the landscape and go unnoticed while locals try their best to get on with their lives. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is one of those locals, a young mother determined to pursue her dream of returning to education and eventually becoming a doctor. However, past political passions and archaic traditions quickly stop her goal in its tracks and when her husband is suddenly drafted, leaving her alone with her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) in a stifling apartment block, Shideh’s life quickly starts to unravel.
To make matters worse, the appearance of a mute little boy in the building has Dorsa spooked and convinced a particularly nasty evil spirit known as a Djinn is out to get them. As the war around them intensifies and the apartment begins to vacate, Shideh’s problems come to a head when terrors both real and supernatural begin to close in around her. Escape is the only option but with a cloaked figure determined to turn her daughter against her, it’s easier said than done.
Under The Shadow is a smart, psychological horror that’s packed with layers and uncomfortably claustrophobic. Rarely do we see any character out in the open for long, instead Anvari packs his cast into tight corners and confined boxes, heightening the terror that lurks both inside and outside their haunted apartment block. Narges Rashidi excels, effortlessly portraying a woman struggling to hold everything together in a very difficult situation. Relying on her Jane Fonda workout tapes to maintain control, it’s only when Shideh's scared out of her flat and into the unwelcoming world outside that we truly feel how trapped she really is. Anvari’s use of sound is notable too, crafting a droning sonic landscape and sound effect laden score that blurs the boundaries between dream and reality while keeping you firmly on the edge of your seat.
However perhaps more impressive than craft and social commentary is the fact that Under The Shadow still manages to emerge as a genuinely good frightener. When Djinn O’Clock finally rolls around and the terror begins to ramp up, don’t be surprised if you find yourself gripping your armrests and left feeling a little unsettled.