Under the Shadow (2016) | There’s more to this gripping Tehran-set ghost story than meets the eye
When Under the Shadow had its UK cinema run late last year, everyone was raving about it and comparing it to the masterful Australian psychological horror The Babadook (you can read about that film here). Well now I’ve finally gotten to watch it on DVD and it’s every bit as good as those reviews, and so deserving of its – to date – 11 awards, including the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards and the Douglas Hickox Award at the 2016 British Independent Film Awards. Hickox, as some may know, was the director of my all-time favourite Theatre of Blood. And more awards are set to follow, as the horror thriller has also been nominated for two gongs at this year’s BAFTA’s taking place on 12 February.
Making his feature debut, writer and director Babak Amvari has crafted an outstanding piece of work. It follows mother Sideh (Narges Rashidi) struggling to cope in a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. After being blacklisted by the authorities from continuing with her medical studies, Sideh finds herself reduced to playing housewife and exercising to Jane Fonda work-out videos on a contraband VHS machine. When her husband (Bobby Naderi) is called away on military service, Sideh refuses to take her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) to her in-laws despite the very real threat of a bomb attack on the city. And when one such bomb crashes through the family’s apartment block, it doesn’t so much as detonate, as bring with it something far more deadly – malevolent spirits called djinn that begin to haunt her home.
It’s a little unfair to compare Amvari’s thriller with The Babadook, as its a very different entity indeed. While writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Aussie howler was about how grief, guilt and loneliness can manifest the monster inside us all, Under the Shadow is much more subtle affair – but one that’s not lacking in two seriously unnerving sequences. The ‘monster’ in question in this Tehran-set chiller (that was – unsuprisingly – shot in Jordan) is an unseen malevolent force that is felt not only by Sideh and little Dorsa, but also their neighbours. But we see little of that, as everything happens behind closed doors. It’s all very much a metaphor for the country’s new world order under the Khomeini regime. And Amvari is certainly using his ghost story for some social subtext – especially with regards to the role of women following the revolution that toppled the country’s more liberal monarchy and replaced its with a islamist republic.
Narges Rashidi brings a wide range of emotions to her role as an educated young woman at war with her own internal demons – she wants to rage against the machine and motherhood. And once her husband leaves, we are left pretty much with a two-hander, as Rashidi and Manshadi’s Dorsa soon come to blows over a missing doll and VHS tapes. And its their chemistry together that is so engrossing to watch. So much so, that the film’s ending is a huge let down. I won’t reveal it here, but I was begging to know what happens next. One final point is the Farsi language spoken throughout – it’s a wonderfully clear and melodious delight to the ear.
Under the Shadow (15) is out on DVD in the UK from Precision Pictures from Monday 20 January 2017
Posted on January 23, 2017, in Horror, Must-See, Thriller, World Cinema and tagged Djinn, DVD release, Evil Spirit, Horror, Iran, Tehran, Thriller, Under the Shadow. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.