A mother and daughter struggling to cope in war-torn 1980’s Tehran and the father figure of the family going away to fight, when a bomb comes crashing through the flat block’s roof. However it remains unexploded, but it hasn’t left without leaving lasting damage.
Under the Shadow proudly continues 2016’s terrific surge in horror movies that stretches from the mainstream (Don’t Breathe) to the underground with this movie. A British/Iranian production as much about the horror of the sexual politics in 1980’s Iran as the horror of the possible evil spirit the unexploded bomb brought in with it. In terms of the single parent – child dynamic it does bare some similarities with 2014’s wonderful The Babadook. But while there are similarities in the surface the two movies deal with wholly different subtexts.
Under the Shadow also possesses a slight similarity with A Girl walks alone at Night from last year, in that both are part Iranian and absolutely wonderful. Under the Shadow shows the perfect mix between thoughtful subtext about real world issues (war, women’s rights) and genuine scares. Under the Shadow is not afraid of properly making you jump – and by this I do not mean turn the violins up to 11 just to say boo loudly, I mean use incisive editing and shocking visuals to an alarming effect. Perhaps the greatest praise for this movie is that it manages to find that hallowed point of tension where even sharp jagged shock scares don’t puncture the suspense. Even after the supposed “release” you remain on the edge of your seat.
And all of this tension can be put down to the two central performances from Narges Rashidi as the mother and Avin Mashadi as the child. Both of them work wonderfully together to create a very credible and emotionally engaging mother daughter bond that sees itself go through incredible strain. And though it’s a review cliché the setting of war torn Tehran really is its own character and specifically the increasingly dishevelled block of flats that they live in. The more the drama plays out the more imposing the building seems to become, encroaching in on the characters.
Honestly I cannot fault the film. At one stage the horrifying reality of what being a woman was like (or possibly still is?) in Iran threatens to become scarier than the actual paranormal happenings, but oh boy do they intensify in the final movement of the film. All the while never losing its sense of ambiguity that feeling that maybe you and the characters are just imagining it because of the intense external stresses. Truly magnificent and terrifying stuff – a must watch.