Under the Shadow
Directed by Babak Anvari
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war torn Tehran of the 80s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
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★★★★½ review by Vanessa on Letterboxd
me before watching under the shadow: this movie can't be that scary
me now: i'll never be able to sleep again
★★★★½ review by DirkH on Letterboxd
Ever since I was a kid I've been fascinated by haunted houses and ghosts. So it was only natural that when my love for the horror genre was sparked by films like Nightmare on Elm Street in the 80s, I always sought out films that had to do with spirits and whatnot.
So I guess you'll agree with me that we have been mistreating this particular subgenre for quite some time. These days films about ghosts and hauntings are prefabricated, jump scare riddled, drab distillations of what should make these stories so great. We should be intrigued and afraid, not scared, but uncomfortable.
When you read the synopsis for Under the Shadow, you'd probably think you'll be in for yet another familiar trip down trope lane.
And to a certain extent, you are. It follows the beats of the most familiar ghost stories. The difference is, however, that Under the Shadow is dedicated to its setting in that it takes great pains to give its audience a glimpse into a deeply troubled era of a country. In the wrong hands this could have turned into a cheap gimmick, but director Anvari takes his time to establish character and setting before using the latter to build the tension a story like this needs.
And the tension is at points superbly uncomfortable. Aided by two superb leading ladies, Anvari keeps his storytelling lean, which is very welcome indeed. I loved how the events of the outside world acted as a very credible reason for mother and daughter to slowly end up alone in their apartment building. The growing despair in Narges Rashidi's eyes as she sees everyone leave and feels her daughter slipping through her fingers, caused by something that she eventually has to concede to being supernatural, that despair carries this film. Horror is about being afraid for the people you're watching and Under the Shadow does that really well.
There is the odd jump scare but this film really excels in the visual fear mongering. There are scenes that are deliciously disturbing because of their haunting imagery. I hope Anvari gets more chances to explore this genre as he certainly manages to do a lot with a little.
Contemporary horror can learn a thing or two from Under the Shadow. And for fans of this particular sub genre it is required viewing.
★★★★½ review by nathaxnne walker on Letterboxd
During the Iran-Iraq War, approximately a million people were killed, half of whom were civilians. Under the BP/CIA-installed reign of the Shah, Iran was a favorite client state of the US and its allies. After the revolution, Iran became isolated, while Iraq had the backing of the United States, France and the Soviet Union, all of whom helped to fund the war and provide Iraq with the necessary resources to fight it, including US approval and logistical support for Saddam Hussein's use of sarin and mustard gas, backing that was only rescinded once Saddam started acting on the belief it extended to other neighbors who were on better terms with us than Iran.
It has been United States policy to keep Iran isolated ever since. Even now, our entire plan for 'Middle East Peace' involves a Saudi-Israeli-Egyptian alliance against Iran and many of its trading partners even as Iran has in recent years voted for moderate governments who seek greater rapprochement with the world community.
There can be no understating how traumatic this war was and still continues to be to this day.
Under The Shadow is a terrifying look at life inside a civilization in the grip of a war waged seemingly without end and a theocracy frightened of its own fragility offering itself as the only protection against total destruction.
Emptied by bombing and missile campaigns the city becomes as a ghost, full of damaged homes abandoned by humans and inhabited now by the winds which flow within and without and those who dwell within them, drawn to what is missing, what once was present.
The scariest thing in this movie is the sound of the winds howling through the streets, whooshing as they wrap themselves around buildings, louder now that there is less noise of activity to dampen and distract. How daily life can be taken from you, how your house and family once ruptured by forces from without can start to collapse from within.
★★★★ review by Leticia Fernandes on Letterboxd
This poster is so ugly it almost convinced me of not watching the film
★★★★ review by Kalpit Tandon on Letterboxd
War torn ghost town, shells of missiles hanging from roofs, empty streets, haunting emergency whistles and barren rustling of winds. It's like we are suspended in a perpetual state of anxiety where reality ends in dreams and dreams begin while we are wide awake.
Tremendous sound design along with weirdly effective scares elevates this nightmare into something so detached from this world, that it sucks you right inside it. Living and breathing, you become part of Under the Shadow as it becomes a part of you.
The cracks on the surface seems on verge of exploding as death walks just around every corner during each moment of this Persian minefield of dread. The ghoul may be nothing but fabricated reality, or something conjured merely from imaginations but it's enough to scare the living daylights out of you. Grab a blanket, switch off those lamps and pull up your courage for you must take a dive in this tunnel of strangeness.
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