Iran

The Night

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An Iranian couple living in the US is driving home one night after a gathering with friends. They decide to take their baby and stay the night in a hotel instead of making the drive home so late. In this dark and quiet hotel, the couple is forced to face the demons of their past or else this bizarre night may never end.

Writer and director Kourosh Ahari (Generations, The Yellow Wallpaper) and co-writer Milad Jarmooz (Maybe There) create an eerie tale with The Night. The film opens with our two protagonists, Babak and Neda, at a gathering with friends. We get to know who they are by how they interact with the people who know them best before we really see them interact much with each other. It is clear there is some subconscious strain between the married couple, and it only escalates after they leave the gathering with their baby girl. When they decide to stop and stay the night in a hotel, things go from strained to a complete nightmare. Strange sounds and ghostly visions plague them all through the night. The couple gradually realizes the secrets of their past are coming back to haunt them, threatening to destroy the life they’ve built together in the States. The fact that their baby is with them only makes the situation more dire and frightening.

For the most part, The Night creates a haunting and tense mythos. The increasingly strange and intense visions seem to be connected to matching tattoos the married couple chose at random to get together the very day the film begins. Whatever this symbol is, it has managed to manifests itself as Babak and Neda’s innermost secrets and forces them to face their past. It’s an interesting concept that definitely results in delightful frights, but this is also where the mythos gets a bit muddy. The tattoos look almost like an Aztec or Mayan coin, spilt in half between the pair. Then, before any ghostly apparitions appear, the couple repeatedly encounter a creepy black cat. This automatically makes me think of ancient Egyptian folklore. While I appreciate keeping the origin and the reasoning for the events of this one night being left to the imagination of the viewers, having a stronger cultural origin at the very least would have been wise.

Both leads deliver striking performances in The Night. Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman, A Separation) stars as Babak. Babak is a very closed off man who appears to cope with his feelings with alcohol rather than talking with his wife or friends. Niouhsa Jafarian, who I couldn’t find on IMDb, plays Neda. Neda is the more grounded of the two, yet she keeps things bottled up just as much as her husband. Jafarian and Hosseini play off of each other very well. There are subtleties to their dynamic shown through curt remarks and body language that expertly show the strain between them. It’s obvious Neda carries resentment towards Babak and Babak doesn’t seem to be able to be around Neda without drinking. This bizarre night shows how similar the two are, especially with the secrets they keep, yet it’s how they react when confronted by those secrets that will decide who survives.

The Night brings audiences a chilling tale of past secrets breaking into the present in a truly haunting way. Ahari once again shows he has a knack for creating frightening ambience. Together Ahari and Jarmooz deliver a tense plot, although the mythos leaves a bit to be desired. Luckily the focus is more on the secrets and ghostly manifestations of those secrets, which makes it easier to overlook some of the flaws. The suspenseful film is helped by great performances from Hosseini and Jafarian, as well as the creepy hotel setting. The Night is sure the send chills down your spine while also making you take a hard look at the secrets you keep.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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