Babak Anvari / Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi / Horror / 2016 / 15 / 84mins
The British nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar is a solid, well structured creeper that wrings war metaphors, and then some.
It seems the height of the Iraq-Iran War is not enough to distract Shideh (Narges Rashidi) – she is distraught at losing her university place, her husband (Bobby Naderi) departing for the frontline, and the increasingly radicalised system of Islamism that dictates her and her daughter Dorsa’s (Avin Manshadi) life.
Determined to stay in Tehran despite pleas from her husband to leave, Shideh confronts death when a dud missile slams through the roof of her block of flats. Although reluctant to explode, the missile brings with it a dangerous spirit to the flats – a Djinn – which in turn attaches itself to Dorsa. Visions and nightmares soon torment Shideh, and when she and her daughter are the only ones left, the horror cranks up a notch.
An ethereal thriller that blends realism with dark fantasy before spilling drastically into the world of grim mortality, Under the Shadow is a wonderfully crafted debut effort from Babak Anvari. Imagery is in abundance – the war, the bomb, the father leaving, the strict Muslim culture, the girl’s fever, the use of tape – all could be scrutinised for days. There’s also highly developed socio-political themes, and I cannot praise this film enough for that.
Comparisons will be drawn to The Babadook, but there’s originality here too. For instance, the film would not work at all without a solid cast, which Under the Shadow has with Rashidi, Manshadi & co. Each character is fleeting but entirely believable and so is the fear. It’s a simple formula.
For all my praise, the special effects, especially at the end, were disappointing and ruined the aura so spectacularly built up. It stops the film dead in its tracks – big thumbs down.
Tense, taut, concise, compact and – unfortunately – a bit too simple in some departments, but Under the Shadow sticks to its guns to produce a clean finish. A foreign film gem that follows in the vein of fellow Iranian modern classic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. This is a clever horror-thriller anyone can enjoy.
Film as a Film – 4 / Target Audience – 4 / General Audience – 3
Under the Shadow is online on BFI Player now and is due to be released on Netflix
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