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Film Review: Bafta winning Iranian horror ‘Under the Shadow’ a must watch

  • Published at 05:00 pm May 14th, 2018
  • Last updated at 06:20 pm May 14th, 2018
Film Review: Bafta winning Iranian horror ‘Under the Shadow’ a must watch

The film is an international co-production between Qatar, Jordan and the United Kingdom

If a film was judged by the intensity of horror and sheer amount of tension, then this one would have a remarkable ranking for sure. "Under the Shadow" is a 2016 Iranian horror film written and directed by Iranian-born British filmmaker Babak Anvari. It was produced by British Film Company Wigwam Films and is an international co-production between Qatar, Jordan and the United Kingdom. Babak Anvari made his directorial debut through this venture, presenting a vivid show of horror and tension between a mother and a daughter in 1980’s Tehran.

"Under the Shadow" is presented on the premise of the terrors of post-revolution and war-torn Tehran, depicting a true picture of war and the struggles of life along with it. During the war of the cities, which is also known as the war between Islamic post-revolutionary Iran and Iraq, missiles were fired creating the possibility of sudden death at any time. But in this film, the trauma of life in war is even more disconcerting, as strange and malevolent supernatural forces occupy the scene. Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi produced fabulous performances in the film as Shideh the mother and Dorsa the daughter, respectively, projecting an illustration of the crisis and suffering of a mother and daughter coping with unprecedented beings haunting their lives.

The horror and supernatural element centred on Dorsa’s doll named Kimia. Due to her fondness for the doll, Dorsa cannot think of an escape from the situation without it. Once it is lost, It paves the way for evil forces to hold them captive in illusionary and horrific stages. Shideh cannot accept the intrusion of the evil in their life, and she shows courage and boldness to face it. At the same time, the hollow presence of disturbing situations incorporate fear and terror in her mind about whether she can really escape with her daughter safe and sound. Dorsa’s innocent perspective and Shideh’s harsh experience in the past set the film up as a problematic family drama, but the situation changes gradually as a vicious djinn enters. 

The struggle takes place between the love of a mother for her daughter and an uninvited wickedness. Maternal anxiety, seen throughout the visuals to concrete on the real situation of a mother who is plagued by political upheavals, resentments, insidious self-doubts and the panic inside, slowly losing all her sanity, and how a child reacts to the frightening situation are the main paddles of the film. Both the characters fall victim to isolation, rapid hauntings, shared psychosis, and ominous familiars. Flutters of Dark power and dread occupy the film’s plot satisfyingly. The dark evil powers loitering in the doorways and clattering at the window build some space for genuine jump moments with some nicely disquieting imagery. By merging surreal psychological terror and dream-like impressions, a fear is created that transcends the nightmarish horror experience. 

Some political and social aspects can be noticed in the film, as it projects the time of the war between Iran and Iraq. The event of a falling damaged missile in the building recreates the history of the war, when missiles of the Iraqi regime were systematically fired into the middle of the large populated area. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought a new Islamic regime, and religious conservatism prevailed over the socio-political space as Shideh, one of the left wing protesters against the government at that time, was advised to abide by the strictly formed rules of new regime by a university official at the beginning of the film. This particular issue is revealed in the film through the scenes of hiding the forbidden VCR and Jane Fonda aerobic tapes, and the detention of the mother and daughter for not wearing hijabs outside of their home. 

The central figure of the film is Shideh, played by Iranian-German actress Narges Rashidi. The astonishing matter is that Narges herself had experienced the Iran-Iraq war and at times she had to take shelter in the building basement with her mother during the bombing attacks, just like Shideh and Dorsa in the film. Narges received acclaim for her intense and gripping performance as an intelligent, progressive-minded Iranian mother facing terrifying situations in "Under the Shadow". 

Director, Babak Anvari has crafted the film in a minimalistic setting, confining the dreadful experience to the home, between the walls, creating a new boundary of terror within it. Intelligent insight overflows in the film, as the story exhibits many twisted and horrid feelings as well as bitter reality. The characters’ performances in the film seem very realistic and sympathetic, and almost all of them accumulate some sort of tension and worry, but most terrifying shocks appear when Shideh and Dorsa face the horrors abandoned and unprotected. 

“Under the Shadow" is crafted magnificently with the sheer quantity of horror, trauma, tension and panic leaving no surprise as to why it was selected as the United Kingdom’s foreign Language Oscar entry and BAFTA Film Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer in the year after its release in 2017.

Shouvik Bhattacharjee is a DI colorist, film activist and an executive member of Zahir Raihan Film Society. He is a final year honours student in Jahangirnagar University's English Department, majoring in Applied Linguistics and ELT.  

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