When someone mentions the term “horror film”, what comes to mind? For those not fans of the genre, they would most likely say gore, sex, and excessive violence. For those who are fans, a specific movie may come to mind and many times that movie will have one or more of the elements mentioned. But then there is horror like Under The Shadow from Director Babak Anvari. This atmospheric horror film tells the story of a mother and daughter who are struggling to survive in a post-revolution, war-stricken Tehran in the late 1980s while also being haunted by an evil spirit in their home.
Under The Shadow is subtle, slow-burn horror that will have you by the throat before you realize it. I loved every minute of it. It does an excellent job of immediately investing the audience into the mother, Shideh, by showing the challenges she is facing in her everyday life. From learning that she will not be allowed to become a doctor, to a husband who is shipped off to war, to her struggles to conform to society’s expectations, all of these events help you feel sympathy for the character. Setting film against the backdrop of war-torn Tehran helped build up the feeling of danger before we even get a hint of the haunting. Narges Rashidi, as Shideh, puts on a performance that helps the audience feel empathetic towards her. Avin Manshadi also does well as the daughter Dorsa. Children always manage to help add an extra level of creepy to a story. The scenes where Dorsa is talking to or about the presence in their home are particularly unnerving.
This is not the type of horror that relies on jump scares every minute but there are a few which are very effectively used. There is a particular moment near the end of the film involving a confrontation between the evil spirit and Shideh that made me jump out of my seat. That does not happen very often! Anvari crafted this film in such a way that the viewer will not even realize they are on the edge of their seat before he pulls you off of it. The cinematography was kept nice and tight adding to the claustrophobic feel in the apartment complex, and the sound design helped add to the tension I really enjoyed the backstory of the evil spirit haunting this family. It is a refreshing departure from the type of spirit we generally see in western horror.
All the characters speak Persian, just like in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. This may turn some people away but I hope my readers will take a look. It not only delivers scares but it is also is a social commentary on the struggles woman face in their daily lives, especially those who live in countries where they are considered less than men. It gives a window into what civilian life was like for those who lived in Tehran during that time and shows that the world they lived in was just as scary as a ghost haunting a home. Sometimes, that world is even more scary. If you are looking for a scare a minute blood-fest you may want to look else where. But if you like a horror film with a solid story that is excellently directed with truly creepy scares that make you jump out of your chair, I highly recommend Under The Shadow a film that shows fear is a universal language. 10 out of 10.
Look for Under The Shadow on VOD and in select theaters October 7th, 2016