If there is one thing horror movies do best, it's taking real life, psychological fears and making them as tangible as possible, forcing us to experience the dread that we prefer to push into the back of our minds, yet this is something often traded out for cheap shock in horror movies today. While "Under the Shadow" may miss a few beats in terms of its actual scares, it is an atmospheric and smart film that is about the real oppression that many people had to deal with and how it affects its main character.
It takes place in Iran during the 80s, a very divisive time in the country's history, when Iranians could be bombed by Iraq at any moment. Anyone who didn't follow their strict rules was horribly punished, and one could be discriminated against for their past political views, and the end of the war was nowhere in sight.
The film begins with Shideh attempting to finish her medical studies, but being turned down for her past political views. Her mother has just died, and she always dreamed that Shideh would be a doctor. Her husband, while loving, doesn't seem very supportive, and they get in an argument which details her past, showing that her husband has subtly oppressed her in the past. He leaves for work around a time that rumors begin to surface about Iraq bombings. He insists she take her daughter to his parents' house, and she denies, mostly as a way to prove that she can take care of her daughter.
However, after the first bombing, Shideh begins to lose control of her daughter, who starts to talk to supernatural beings brought on by the anxiety and fear caused by the attacks. Most people begin leaving, and soon she is left alone, desperately clinging to her daughter, but often failing.
The horror is said to be supernatural, but it is mostly brought upon by her fear that she is useless. She fears that since she can't be a doctor, she must be a good mother, but everything around her is telling her she is failing.
As far as the actual scares go, they are executed impressively for the most part. The shots are held just as long as they need to be held in order to build tension, and cuts are made at the right moments. There are a few jump scares that felt predictable (such as the first dream sequence, and moments towards the end), but most are built up perfectly and used just sparingly enough to truly be unaware of what would happen next. A few moments during the climax felt dragged out, as tends to happen with many horror films, good and bad. But what is most striking about this film is its atmosphere. It has a very dream-like atmosphere and some of the imagery is pretty hard to forget.
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