31 Days of Horror (Day15) : ‘Under the Shadow’ (2016)

Things go bump in the night, others will devour your soul, some will slice, dice eat your heart with a nice glass of Chianti. October has now arrived which can mean only one thing 31 Days of Horror has now arrived again. For the next 31 days, we will dive deep into the catacombs of horror to pick you a movie. Every day will be different ranging from the classics to the weird and wonderful. Many you might have heard of, some will be new to you. There will be personal favourites that you may like, others you may hate but they all will unleash those emotions that make us love horror.
Day 15 comes from Zach Roddis delivers a look at an underrated World Cinema horror Under The Shadow, the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.

Under the Shadow’ is a claustrophobic horror film with a socio-political context. Set in an apartment block in the midst of war-torn Iran, a mother and daughter fend a bewildering evil presence. The war is hot and ongoing; the Tehran flat block is literally in danger and is part way crumbling. We are placed inside the flat to experience this firsthand.

The film is quick to establish some familiar horror tropes. Rules are established in so far as we know that the characters, for one reason or another, are confined to their home. With the possibility of an Iraqi missile strike, people are fleeing the city. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) demands to stay – her ideal domestic atmosphere is under threat but she doesn’t want to abandon it. Though her motivations change throughout the film, she remains determined in a dark, lonely environment.

The husband has to serve as a doctor for the military, adding “I’ll be back before you know it!” – this highlighting the disagreements within the family unit, and how their time apart is difficult to comprehend. They don’t know if or when they will see each other next. This anxiety feeds into the narrative by not only giving it a direction but also feeding further seeds of doubt.

The daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), is clearly traumatised by the situation and real dangers that surround her. At first, this explains her insistence about the company of spirits. This is then investigated within the narrative and the visions then expose the anxieties of the Shideh. We then focus on her own political dissonance and her failings in pursuit of education.

These underlying themes, along with the more obvious continuing conflict, are realised on screen greatly. The acting is grounded in social realism yet the surrounding world of the film is so distorted and eerie, it makes for compelling viewing. The minimal soundtrack and low siren noises add to the constant fear. The visions are dimly lit and have self-contained jump scares and false setups. It builds right up before going in a different direction again.

Zach Roddis

Horror, War | Iran, 2016 |15 | VertiGO films | Dir.Babak Anvari | Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi

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