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Iran 2016
Directed by
Babak Anvari
84 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Under The Shadow

Synopsis: Tehran in 1988 at the height of the Iran-Iraq war. With Iraqi missiles falling on the city Shideh (Narges Rashdi) is left to care for her young daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), after Shideh’s husband is ordered to the front. Dorsa insists that she sees other people in their apartment. Shideh reassures her that they are fantasies brought on by a fever but gradually her certainty weakens.

Recalling Jennifer Kent's 2014 low-budget frightener, The Babadook, Under the Shadow, the feature-length debut of Iranian writer-director Babak Anvari cleverly plays on the uncertain interface between reality and imagination, using his very limited means (literally, little more than a couple of bedsheets) to create a disturbing cinema experience and a biting social critique rolled into one.

Set five years after the Iranian Cultural Revolution, the socio-cultural conditions of the time, particularly the status of women is an important thread in the film which opens by introducing us to Shideh, who has just been told by the authorities that due to her political activities when a medical student she will never be allowed to complete her medical degree. It is devastating news for Shideh and sets the tone for her stressed mental state which is key to the events that subsequently unfold.

After arguing with her husband before he sets off to the front she is left with her young daughter, Dorsa, who begins claiming that their apartment Is haunted by evil spirits known as djinns.  Shideh  dismisses this as fanciful nonsense, no less when her adult neighbour suggests that they have ridden in on one of Saddam’s missiles that have crashed into their building. But gradually the incursions build up and Shideh finds herself in a deadly fight with the demons for possession of her child.

The marvel of Under the Shadow is that it seamlessly integrates the realist approach that we know well from Iranian film (exemplified in the recently screened Wednesday, May 9) with anti-realist supernatural horror devices such as fleetingly-seen apparitions and sudden scream-inducing scares, all the while focussing on Shideh’s battle to preserve her rationality and protect her daughter.  Commanding our attention In in the lead role Narges Rashdi gives a sterling performance as the beleaguered woman, while Avin Manshadi  does a very good job as her young daughter as Anvari expertly draws us into their truly awful experience.

Under the Shadow will confound your expectations of Iranian film and if intelligent, psychological horror is your thing then it should be on your to-see list.




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