Under the Shadow

 

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A striking feature debut from Iran that survives comparison with two other acclaimed works.

  

Under the Shadow

Avin Manshadi

 

Babak Anvari shows remarkable assurance here as he gives us his first feature film, one on which he is both writer and director. His tale may be set in Tehran in the 1980s but, however much weight you give to the social context, this plays as a horror film akin to the highly acclaimed The Babadook made in 2014. Furthermore, as a work by an Iranian filmmaker dealing in the supernatural it also brings to mind another film from 2014, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The impressive acting here may not be quite as exceptional as the achievements of Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman in The Babadook, but Anvari keeps the ghostly menace under firmer control than Jennifer Kent did and, although visually Under the Shadow cannot match the sheer brilliance of  the black and white images in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, it provides more to satisfy horror fans than that film did, but without opting for gross-out effects.

 

Whereas The Babadook centred on a mother and son, Under the Shadow features Shideh (Narges Rashid) and her young daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). The child is young enough to believe in djinns not as figures in fairy tales and legends but as a real threat borne in on the wind and eager to claim possession of a child such as herself. When father, a doctor, is called away for duty to the military, mother and child are left alone in a block which is struck by an Iraqi missile. However, one accepts that plot contrivance, this being a film which is admirably succinct in its storytelling and which also builds character so that the growing sense of menace involves people whose fate matters to us. In fact the film is careful to suggest that the nightmares experienced, even if more metaphorical than real, could be created by stress: not just the tensions from being under fire but the circumscribed opportunities offered to women and Shideh's natural fears as a wife not wholly at ease with her husband's attitudes that she could be seen as an inadequate mother.

 

These issues add weight to what is undoubtedly a successful film, even if ultimately it is as a horror movie that it asks to be judged - and, indeed, Anvari's restraint and control doesn't prevent him from achieving the shock moments that the genre demands.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian.


Dir Babak Anvari, Pro Lucan Toh, Emily Leo and Oliver Roskill, Screenplay Babak Anvari, Ph Kit Fraser, Pro Des Nasser Zoubi, Ed Chris Barwell, Music Gavin Cullen, Costumes Phaedra Dahdaleh.


Wigwam Films/Doha Film Institute-Vertigo Films.
84 mins. UK/Jordan/Iran/Qatar. 2016. Rel: 30 September 2016. Cert. 15
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