Set in 1980s Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War, Under the Shadow documents the nightmare of a mother and daughter terrorised by a malevolent ‘djinn’: a supernatural entity in Arabic and Islamic mythology. Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi portray the roles of Shideh and Dorsa with intimacy and conviction, but it’s the backdrop of a shelled, increasingly isolated city which offers unique tension and poignancy.
The closest comparisons to the directorial debut of Babak Anvari are perhaps Jacob’s Ladder and Pan’s Labyrinth. Both use the horror cannon to explore the effects of wartime post-traumatic stress disorder from two different perspectives: the former is from that of a Vietnam veteran plagued by demons and the latter is from that of a young girl searching to mentally and physically escape the Spanish Civil War.
Under the Shadow strikes a more contemporary tone: Shideh and Dorsa become detached and divided by the constant threat of missile strikes and the lurking djinn as much as the cultural inequalities which contextualise the storyline. This allows Anvari to depict his disturbing apparitions with the same subtle suspense as the manifestations in Dark Water and Pulse without losing focus on these important sociopolitical frameworks. The final feature paints an unsettling picture of wartime ruin and claustrophobia.
In short, this is a triumphant effort which isn’t afraid to confront uncomfortable cultural realities while utilising a compact cast to disturb and disconcert the audience. Arguably, a film hasn’t reimagined war and horror in such ambitiously unusual ways since Apocalypse Now (and its source, Heart of Darkness).
23 January 2017