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Review: Under The Shadow

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Babak Anvari writes and directs Under the Shadow: a Middle Eastern horror film set during the 80s Iraq-Iran war, that stars Narges Rashidi (Æon Flux) and Avin Mashadi.

Shideh (Rashidi) is told that she cannot return to medical school in Tehran, due to being a revolutionary during the war. As the immoveable professor tells her this, neither react to a bomb blast visible out of his office window. The continuous bombings may have become commonplace, but they are about to strike closer to home for Shideh, as her family comes under fire from both above and within.

Returning home, Shideh’s grudges against her husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), for being a doctor and not supporting her, and against her young daughter, Dorsa (Mashadi), for making her drop out of school in the first place deepen. Things get worse when Iraj is called to the front to care for soldiers, leaving Shideh and Dorsa alone.

As the bombing gets closer, everyone in the building flees, but Shideh reuses to leave on principal, and when Dorsa loses her doll, Kimia, she stubbornly wants to stay too. But as well as explosions gradually decimating the tower block, a vengeful spirit is decimating Shideh’s sanity and the already fractured mother-daughter relationship.

The hauntings are staged inventively with clever angles and tricks. They are rendered even scarier not just by some heart stopping jumps, but also by regular air raids, and when the pair run outside for help from the police Shideh is busted and banged up for not wearing her hijab. Babak Anvari drenches the film in fear and anxiety, and the physical, spiritual, conceptual and religious attacks from all angles leave Shideh and Dorsa completely frazzled and ripe for the “djinn”’s attentions.

Under the Shadow is kind of like The Babadook with bombs and a strict dress code. Unfortunately the similarities can sap the film’s power at times and leave you experiencing some deja vu. A severe lack of character likeability also hampers things, with Shideh exhibiting hideous parenting, paralysing inactivity, and an utter refusal to learn any lessons throughout.

Thought and jump provoking, Under the Shadow is a political paranormal thriller that is released in the UK on the 30th of September.

3-out-of-5

under the shadows poster

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