Under the Shadow

A mother gets left alone with her daughter in post-revolution Tehran in the eighties. Everyone is on edge because of the constant threat of bombings from Iraq. With tensions already running high, things only get worse when an evil entity begins to haunt the apartment the mother and daughter call home. Life gradually become more dangerous, both outside their home and inside. Which threat should they be most fearful of?

This was my first Iranian horror film, and there were so many things I loved about it. While this is a horror film, it focuses quite a bit on what life was like for a more liberal family living in post-revolution Iran. Not only do we see the oppression that the lead character goes through as a woman in that time, but we are also shown a glimpse of what it was like to live with the constant fear of a bomb coming through your ceiling. As if this isn’t terrifying enough, the mother and daughter also have to deal with something evil. This evil is known as a “djinn,” which is a supernatural spirit from Islamic mythology. Using the ancient evil in a modern, war-torn landscape created an excellent juxtaposition.

Under the Shadow was shockingly successful at keeping you tense from start to finish. By the time the film ended, I had a horrible headache from clenching my jaw and tensing my muscles in anticipation of what would come next. On top of that, the filmmakers managed to have a few excellent jump scares thrown in to add to the suspense. While the film is generally what would be described as a “slow burn,” the last 15 minutes manages to keep you at the edge of your seat and peeking at the screen from behind your hands.

While there are some periphery characters, there primarily is just the mother and the daughter. Shideh, the mother, was played by Narges Rashidi (Aeon Flux). Rashidi delivered a powerful performance. It is hard to imagine what it would be like living as a woman in warn-torn Iran in the eighties trying to take care of your daughter alone, while at the same time combating an evil that you don’t even know is real or not. However, Rashidi does a great job giving us a glimpse into that world. Dorsa, the daughter, was played by Avin Manshadi. This was Manshidi’s first acting role, and she definitely delivered. As many horror fans know, children in horror films can easily lean towards a more annoying performance. Luckily, this was not the case for Manshidi. She was very talented, and her performance was truly believable.

Being more of a suspenseful film, there aren’t that many special effects. Most of the effects enter at the end of the film, which of course I will not give too much detail on. The effects are primarily CGI, which from a practicality standpoint was the only way to achieve the climax of the film. The effects are simple, especially in the styling of the djinn, but they are highly effective. The simple design managed to send chills down my spine and make something seemingly harmless absolutely terrifying.

When I went to see this film in the theater, I went in blind. The only thing I knew about it was that the film was from Iran. I’m thrilled I didn’t pass up the chance to see it on the big screen. The atmosphere of the film left you in a perpetual state of dread. This feeling was only amplified by being in a dark theater. Under the Shadow gives you a glimpse into the old and new aspects of Iranian culture, while also giving you a fright you won’t soon forget. This is the kind of film that will appeal to many viewers, not just because of the scares, but also because you learn things you may not have known about a different culture while watching it. It’s a horror film and a history lesson all in one.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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