Under the Shadow (2016)

“Under its scares, Under the Shadow serves as an impassioned allegory for female oppression – but Anvari doesn’t short-change horror fans. He delivers an entertainment that’s fun to watch, and subversively incisive for those willing to read between the lines.”

‘Under the Shadow’, directed by Babak Anvari in 2016, is a horror movie set in Tehran in the 1980s. A family lives in an apartment block in a city under regular bombardment by Iraqi missiles. Shideh , played by Narges Rashidi and her daughter Dorsa, played by Avin Manshadi are left alone when her husband is drafted and most of their neighbours flee the city. They make plans to leave, but a mysterious force prevents them. Dorsa becomes feverish and the cracks in the building caused by a missile seem to be linked to a haunting by a Djinn, a supernatural creature from Arabian mythology. In terms of narrative, this movie owes much to the 2014 Australian movie ‘The Babadook’, but Anvari laces his story with a blend of Arabian folk horror and Japanese style elemental shocks. As with most good horror movies, the tense pleasure of this film doesn’t just come from the jump scares or the weirdness of the haunting, but also from the psychological impact of watching the relationship break down between a mother and a daughter. The narrative works on multiple levels: the family is in personal crisis, the building is threatened, the fabric of reality is frayed, and the whole city is under attack by missiles. There is also a powerful feminist commentary, particularly pertinent when set in the restricted regime of Iran at the time.  All of these elements are balanced perfectly as the film builds towards a climax that perhaps treads just over the line into hyperbole. It’s a claustrophobic chamber piece, a movie that lives and dies on the strength of its two central performances, and they don’t disappoint.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a tightly constructed and deceptively complex shocker. Watch in a double bill with ‘The Babadook’.

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