UN­DER THE SHADOW

Tehran ter­ror

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

RE­LEASED 30 SEPTEM­BER TBC | 84 MIN­UTES DIREC­TOR BABAK AN­VARI CAST NARGES RASHIDI, AVIN MANSHADI, BOBBY NADERI, RAY HARATIAN

Moth­ers pro­tect­ing their young is a fa­mil­iar trope in hor­ror films (see also Poltergeist, Dark Water), but first-time direc­tor Babak An­vari pumps fresh ur­gency into the con­cept with Un­der The Shadow, a film that mas­ter­fully blends its pe­riod set­ting, haunted house aes­thetic and so­ciopo­lit­i­cal un­der­cur­rents into a co­her­ent, slow-burn scare ma­chine with some­thing to say.

In 1988 Tehran, the high-rise home of Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is con­stantly quak­ing un­der the threat of bombs. When an un­det­o­nated pro­jec­tile crashes into the apart­ment up­stairs – mere days af­ter Shideh’s hus­band has been shipped off to the front­line of the Iran-Iraq War – it co­in­cides with her daugh­ter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), spot­ting a mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure in their home.

Crank­ing up the ten­sion slowly, An­vari crafts early do­mes­tic scenes with dark wit (Shideh’s aer­o­bics VHS is a nice touch) be­fore un­leash­ing J-hor­ror-es­que ter­rors: there are strange noises in the night, Shideh suf­fers sur­real night­mares, and Dorsa’s favourite doll goes miss­ing. Shideh rub­bishes her neigh­bour’s claim that a djinn is loose in the building, but as she searches for the truth, An­vari’s com­posed cam­er­a­work grad­u­ally un­teth­ers it­self from re­al­ity, glid­ing and spin­ning un­ex­pect­edly, de­ploy­ing scares that are as sur­pris­ing as they are ef­fec­tive.

As in all the best scary movies, the hor­rors here are all-too hu­man, as Shideh bat­tles both the smoth­er­ing malev­o­lence of pa­tri­archy and the phan­toms of war-torn Tehran. Shades of The Babadook and Pan’s Labyrinth abound, but Un­der The Shadow has more un­der the sur­face. Rashidi is ter­rific as a woman at her wits’ end, re­al­is­ti­cally flawed and des­per­ate to do the right thing de­spite the odds, and when the bad­die is fi­nally un­veiled, it packs a punch that only deep­ens the hor­ror, pos­ing ques­tions most main­stream hor­ror would cringe from. That said, it surely won’t be long be­fore the Hol­ly­wood re­make ma­chine gets its claws into this one… Josh Win­ning

The aer­o­bics VHS was in­spired by An­vari’s own child­hood – a health freak neigh­bour used to give his mum Jane Fonda videos.

Dam­mit, the ceil­ing mould was back and she was all out of Det­tol.

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