Friday 30 September 2016


A big hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Under the Shadow is director Babak Anvari's debut feature film, drawing on his childhood experiences in Tehran for this claustrophobic tale of a mother trying to protect her daughter from a malevolent danger.

When Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is rejected from continuing her studies to become a doctor due to accusations against her, she retreats to her apartment building home with her husband and daughter, Dorsa. When her husband has to leave the city for work, she is left to care for Dorsa alone, who has begun to see strange things around the apartment and speaks of a Djinn; a malevolent spirit that is plaguing her.

Set during the Iran-Iraq conflict of the 1980s in a time of great social upheaval, the first half of the film is less about scares and more about keeping you on tenterhooks with the ominous threat, second guessing what it may show you next. However, as the film progresses it becomes clear that Under the Shadow is well aware of haunted house conventions and uses them for its benefit, playing with the audiences expectations.

Under threat of bombings at all times, almost the entirety of the film takes place within the apartment complex. It is Shideh's bunker (complete with taped up windows to protect from shattered glass), a place where she can feel safe and free from the oppression of having to cover her hair, and where she is able to watch her (forbidden) Jane Fonda workout videos.

Under the Shadow brings to mind recent horrors Insidious, It Follows, The Babadook and the best of the J-horror sub genre (Dark Water, Ring, etc) in its ability to present its story within the framework of a basic family drama. The film is largely a two hander between Shideh and Dorsa, and has smart comparisons between the way Dorsa is being treated and corrupted by this force, and the regime that has almost overnight changed the way Shideh is seen within society. The subtext is clear and palpable.

The camera is kept close and fluid, and like Insidious it creates tension from the things you think you might have seen, with glimpses of obscure shapes around the room. Something as simple as a child's coat hanging from a hook proved particularly nail biting for me.

An extremely promising debut from director Babak Anvari; tense, claustrophobic and extremely unsettling, Under the Shadow is a nerve shredding experience that won't be easily forgotten.


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