Under the Shadow comes from a dark place. Firmly in the shade of the Cultural Revolution and deep into the Iran-Iraq War, the spectre of war and threat of tragedy looms large over what is, in essence, a stressful domestic drama.
The design team (Nasser Zoubi, Karim Kheir and Phaedra Dahdelah) deserve credit for their effective recreation of 1980s Iran both in setting and in sentiment. The majority of the film takes place in a single apartment, but this is filled with authentic, telling details which lend themselves to the story in engaging ways. Combined with clever camerawork this captures some striking images; a missile embedded in an apartment is particularly notable, and who knew a Jane Fonda workout video could be a chilling focal point in an Iranian horror?
The horror is not only a metaphor for the war, but also for the personal crises – professional, parenting, partner – of Shideh (Rashidi). As her life crumbles alongside the mortared bricks of her building, her fear and anxiety manifests in Dementor-like apparitions and missing items. The horror-staple characters are all here; stressed mother, scared daughter, creepy child, elderly superstitionist. Their performances are subdued and understated in a bid for realism, which also lends a disconnection from their reality.
Despite an unsettling sense of growing apprehension, extensive lulls make the sporadic, sudden and severe attacks little more than jump scares. Subversively, director Babak Anvari shows that even among all this there is still the real threat of Islamic law, a tangible and ever-present reason for Shideh to be fearful.
There’s something rummy about these djinn. Under the Shadow invests a great deal to create terror on all fronts, to the extent that it dilutes the message of fear by introducing new reasons to doubt the reality of the situation.
CAST: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian
DIRECTOR: Babak Anvari
WRITER: Babak Anvari
SYNOPSIS: As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
A preview screening of Under the Shadow was kindly provided by Wigwam Films and Vertigo Releasing.