TEhRaN all Night

J-hor­ror meets war drama in smart su­per­nat­u­ral shocker Un­der The Shadow...

SFX - - Red Alert -

“You just know that when the siren goes off you have to run down to the base­ment, oth­er­wise some­thing ter­ri­ble could hap­pen,” says direc­tor Babak An­vari, de­scrib­ing the night­mare sce­nario he acted out re­peat­edly as a child of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. “It was a dark time, it made sense to tell a hor­ror story set there!” He laughs. “I’m sur­prised no­body had done that be­fore...”

In­fus­ing his real-life ex­pe­ri­ences with the queasy dream logic of slow-burn hor­ror, An­vari’s fea­ture de­but, Sun­dance hit Un­der The Shadow, is all about ter­rors both real and imag­ined as Shideh (Narges Rashidi) bat­tles phan­toms in her high-rise Tehran home. “She’s a smart woman who doesn’t be­lieve in su­per­nat­u­ral things,” says Rashidi, who was also born in Iran and ex­pe­ri­enced the war first-hand. “For me, what was so special is that I never knew; is this re­ally hap­pen­ing or is it just in her head?”

As Shideh’s young daugh­ter re­ports see­ing some­body around their bat­tle-scarred apart­ment, Shideh’s forced to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that, as her neigh­bour warns, they could be the tar­get of a djinn. “Ja­panese hor­ror was a major in­flu­ence,” re­veals An­vari, who shot for just 21 days in an apart­ment block in Jor­dan, and cites Ringu and The Grudge as tonal touch­stones. “It’s in­ter­est­ing how the Ja­panese use their own cul­ture and mythol­ogy to tell these re­ally en­gag­ing sto­ries. I thought, ‘I can do the same with the cul­ture I’m from.’”

Boast­ing an au­then­tic sense of time and place, Un­der The Shadow also used Ira­nian cul­ture to in­form Rashidi’s per­for­mance. As part of her prep for the role, the ac­tress was told to watch Rose­mary’s Baby, and An­vari also sent her the kind of Per­sian mu­sic, lyrics and po­ems – all heav­ily po­lit­i­cal – that Shideh would en­joy. And while the film has a meaty sub­text, it’s also a nail-biter of a hor­ror film with fem­i­nist over­tones. “I didn’t set out to write a fem­i­nist script,” says An­vari, “it hap­pened nat­u­rally be­cause in­spi­ra­tion came from con­ver­sa­tions I’d had with my mum.”

It wasn’t all scares, though, es­pe­cially when it came to cre­at­ing the film’s ter­ri­fy­ing djinn. “Our pro­ducer was in a green mo­tion­cap­ture suit jump­ing around on set,” Rashidi laughs. “That was ac­tu­ally funny, I had to laugh. That was more funny than scary!”

Un­der The Shadow is out 30 Septem­ber and re­viewed on page 96.

Narges Rashidi gives a great per­for­mance as a woman un­der at­tack.

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