UNDER THE SHADOW
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.