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This film is very notable to me for being the first that I am aware
of horror film to come out of a Middle Eastern Islamic country. For
this reason alone, Under the Shadow is an interesting movie. Horror
films generally work best when there is a sense of mystery to
proceedings, the unknown being one of the scariest things there is.
This was the reason that the J-Horror films from Japan were so
terrifying to western audiences, as the Japanese conception of the
supernatural was so different to ours meaning that things happened in
those films that were highly unpredictable and unsettling. It's this
same reason that a horror film from an Iranian cultural perspective is
always going to feel more original in approach. And so it proves, as
while there are familiar elements in this ghost story, there are also
aspects that are less predictable, resulting in a fascinating movie. A
woman and her young child live alone in an apartment in Tehran during
the latter years of the Iran-Iraq War when the Iraqi regime were
systematically firing missiles into the middle of large populated urban
areas. Before long the bombs come crashing around them and just as this
starts happening a strange malevolent supernatural force enters their
home and begins to terrorise them also.
One of the things that made this one really stand out for me was the historical setting and social context that came with that. While on the one hand this is a claustrophobic apartment-based horror film, there are also very real terrors outside the home too. In fact, the apartment is a haven for the mother in many ways, a place where she does not have to wear restrictive clothing and can work-out to her Jane Fonda video. Beyond this safe sanctuary she has to deal with a repressive regime who may violently punish her if her clothing is not correct or if they even hear she owns a VCR. The restrictive lives of women during the Cultural Revolution is the real life horror that the protagonist experiences out with the home, while the supernatural Djinn entity is the horror she and her daughter endure within the home. At the same time there are the horrors of war constantly occurring without warning and with potential deadly consequences. Even though this film is set in the late 80's, it's quite clear that this latter factor remains horribly pertinent today, given the horrendous bombings of civilians in the Syrian Civil War which continue unabated as I write this. So, this is a movie with quite a lot going on when you think about it. The supernatural horror material escalates as the story progresses and there are some genuine jump moments and some nicely sinister imagery. It never overplays its hand though and does not descend into over-the-top shenanigans, which ultimately is to the film's overall benefit.
Lastly, and certainly not least there are a couple of excellent performances in here underpinning everything. Narges Rashidi is extremely compelling as the mother, while Avin Manshadi puts in a very strong performance as her young daughter. We really do care about these two sympathetic and realistic characters. In the final analysis, I certainly hope that this film leads to a cycle of Iranian horror films, as the horror genre is often a very good one when it comes to examining tough social issues in an accessible way. This film may be the tip of the iceberg.
I saw this at the Phoenix Film Festival. I'd say this is tied for my
favourite horror movie from that festival (with Eyes of my
Ghost movies are really the only horror films that stand of chance of scaring me these days. There were a few times during this film that I was completely tense, and a few times, absolutely on the verge of terror as to what was going to happen next. The film was just so well done in terms of pacing.
Unfortunately, ghost movies also suffer from poor endings, quite frequently. This ending was better than most, but something about it didn't sit right with me, and that's all I'll say to prevent spoilers. You may disagree entirely. I'm a tough one on endings.
I really hope this gets a wide distribution, because if you're at all a fan of ghost movies, this movie is just fantastic. A definite must see!
I had been following the recent festival news regarding "Under the
Shadow", and shortly after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival
it was promptly acquired by Netflix.
The fact that Netflix snagged it right away from other major distributors should be a real indicator of how much of a winner this movie really is.
Most people will dismiss "Under the Shadow" right away after seeing the PG-13 rating. Don't. Give it a chance, and you won't regret it. This movie doesn't rely on cheap jump scares. The way the movie is paced, it actually lets the tension and intensity accumulate, little by little, and the scares that it delivers, although few in number, are guaranteed to leave a mark.
In one particular instance, everyone in the room screamed and almost jumped out of their seats, and I do mean *everyone*, and that goes to show how well the movie does in pulling everyone in.
Even though the story is set in the 1980s, a lot of themes are, coincidentally, a big deal nowadays, such as the usage of the veil by women, and how they're actually perceived/treated as inferior to and by men, when in reality they happen to be extremely strong characters on their own, driven by what they want to do and what they want to be, and not by what others expect of them.
The Djinn, the so-called "monster" in this movie, is nothing short of amazing given the story and the context, and he's not something you're likely to forget any time soon. I will, however, do the same thing that other reviewers and critics have done before me, and I won't say anything further on this "entity", besides the fact that it's an extremely refreshing, new and interesting concept for the whole "monster movie". Go see the movie, and hopefully you'll not only be surprised and amazed, but also equally terrified.
Narges Rashidi, who plays the mother (Shideh), has a strong and gripping role, but in my humble opinion it was actually Avin Manshadi who plays her daughter, Dorsa, the one who stole the show.
In general, people think of kids (in horror movies) as annoying, and all-around bad actors who just don't have it in them to actually act the part in what's supposed to be a scary, horrifying film. In a nutshell, Avin Manshadi blew me away. The way she delivered her lines, how she acted, the very different ways she looked at her mother given the context, how she looked at her surroundings, and the fact that her gaze also never looked at the "camera" or anything of the sort, that certainly elevated the movie to something else entirely.
It made the whole thing *actually* believable, which isn't always the case when you have a kid as a main protagonist. For an underage kid, and for her first role in anything EVER (according to IMDb), I can't begin to tell you how extremely HUGE her performance actually is.
In short, this movie has very strong performances, a believable dilemma set in a very real period of our history, and a plot that doesn't leave you hanging with even more questions by the end or a twist-ending, like how many/most films usually do nowadays.
Babak Anvari (Director) is definitely on my list of people to keep an eye out for, especially when you consider that this was his first feature film. Extremely impressive, and there's no doubt in my mind that this young director has a lot to offer to the world of filmmaking in general, although I'd very much like to see him tackle some more horror projects.
If you want to see a horror movie riddled with cheap jump scares that provide easy chuckles and giggles, this movie is not for you.
If you want to see a horror movie with lots of deaths, blood and violence, this movie is definitely not for you.
If, however, you are a true fan of the genre and are looking for something new, if you can actually look past the language barrier and want to see an actual plot that gradually evolves in a slow-burn kind of way (as opposed to watching the kind of horror movies where you can just "turn your brain off" and enjoy the mindless fun without giving it a second thought), then you should give this movie a chance, by all means.
If possible, you should watch this in theaters to really get the "experience", otherwise watching it at home won't probably pack the same kind of punch, but I guess everyone is different in that aspect. Just be sure to actually invest all of your senses when watching it!
Like I said, don't go expecting a gore-filled horror fest. This is a movie that actually aims to do justice to the Horror genre and the scares it delivers... and boy, do they!
In the 80's, during the war between the Islamic post-revolutionary Iran
and Iraq, the former leftist medical student Shideh (Narges Rashidi)
tries to return to the university but is barred by the dean. The upset
Shideh returns home and when her husband Dr. Iraj (Bobby Naderi) is
assigned to work in a war zone, she refuses to move to his parent's
house with their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). Shideh prefers to stay
in her apartment with Dorsa, who loves her doll Kimia and has constant
fever. Dorsa is afraid of demoniac Djinns and when Shideh asks who told
her about the legend, she tells that her friend that lives downstairs.
Shideh visits her neighbor and asks his mother to tell her son to not
tell horror stories to Dorsa and she learns that the boy is mute. Then
Kimia and Shideh's Jane Fonda workout tape disappear. When a missile
strikes their building, the neighbors decide to leave Tehran, but
Shideh stays in the apartment with Dorsa, who is increasingly
disturbed. Soon Shideh reads about Djinns and finds that there is an
evil entity in the apartment. Further she must find Kimia; otherwise
Dorsa will be in danger since the Djinn will be attached to her.
"Under the Shadow" is an atmospheric and spooky ghost story in an unusual environment Tehran in the 80's. The difference to the Western cultures is another attraction of this film, such as punishment of the woman for not wearing headscarf or for having a videocassette at home. The story has elements from "The Babadook" but is better than the 2014 film. The conclusion is open for a sequel, like most of the films of this genre. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): Not Available.
In western culture movies become iconic quickly. For example, entire
generations who missed the original Star Wars film can nonetheless
recite dialog from it. Horrow films fit the same mold. The tropes,
tricks, plot arcs and even to a large degree the SFX become familiar
over time because they are part of the overall experience you expect.
But what happens when a horror fan experiences a film from a different culture? Are the building blocks the same ... or different? One of the clearest exponents of this issue is this film, a modern "horror" film produced in an Islamic country that is known neither for its horror films nor really for its interest in films at all.
Which is what makes UNDER THE SHADOW SO REMARKABLE.
It is good enough to stand on its own as a horror piece. In fact, it's only possible failing -- that it builds so slowly and gradually -- can in fact be considered a major strength. It may well be that, in the west, film-makers who lack the skill to "layer" their suspense raise the temperature far too quickly? However when you consider the obvious incorporation of allegory and metaphor to overlay the plight of the heroine in her real life against her plight in the supernatural realm .. the film gets even more intriguing. Not preachy. Just interesting.
"Under the Shadow" was such a wonderful surprise for me. I had already
read some reviews and everybody was speechless about it. I didn't
really expect something THAT good when I started watching it.
The film takes place in Iran somewhere in the 80's when the Iran-Iraq war was on. Shideh and Dorsa, a mother and a daughter, find themselves "abandoned and unprotected" after the father has to leave in order to give his services as a doctor in the war zone. This is when they start realizing that something evil haunts them in their apartment, and there is not much they can do to escape since it's dangerous to leave their home.
Many compare it to 2014's "Babadook". I can see why but at the same time I don't see so many relations to each other. The only thing that I know is that there were moments that I seriously considered turning the lights on for a while... Sometimes the graphics were not that great, definitely not disappointing but seriously, I didn't mind at all. Narges Rashidi's acting is a huge plus for the movie as long as the direction.
Scary, touching, simple though powerful, "Under the Shadow" is a pleasant surprise not only for the horror genre but for cinema in general.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The best horror film at this year's Sundance Film Festival was without
a doubt Babak Anvari's debut feature. Similar to Jennifer Kent's The
BABADOOK (2014), this Britain- based Iranian filmmaker has crafted an
insanely terrifying and emotionally charged nightmare that had people
screaming out loud as well as covering their faces for much of the
Set in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), a young mother Shideh (stunningly portrayed by the mesmerizing Narges Rashidi), attempts to hold her family together as the walls of the world are literally falling down around her. Combining surreal psychological terror, heartbreaking social issue trauma, and downright face- slapping shocks, Anvari has achieved not only one of the scariest films of the decade, but a call for action against the looming horrors for women within their family, in their career, and in their war-ridden cities. NOTE: Make sure to experience Under the Shadow in a loud, surround sound theater.
Review taken from my 2016 Sundance Film Festival wrap up at www.48hills.org
This is a film about war and its atrocities. The primary goal of the
film is obviously not to be a horror film.
During the Iran-Iraq war and especially after Saddam's missiles landed in many parts of Iran, many were affected psychologically. Children who started screaming, adults with PTSD, depression and many many more psychological problems. Imagine fearing any moment that a bomb or a missile could land in your home. It's a hundred times scarier than any supernatural phenomena.
The background of the film is Tehran, Iran in the 80s during the war. The supernatural elements (whether imagined by the main character or supposed to be real) beautifully symbolize the ugliness and squalor of war.
If you are looking to be entertained by a purely horror film, this may not be the best choice, as there is more to it. You may be disappointed as you may tune out of anything non-horror and the rest of the film will seem tedious to watch. However, if you do not expect to be scared the entire time, and just watch it as a film about a family during the war, I guarantee that you will smile, cry and be crept out of your wits a few times. Even though I was paying more attention to the story line rather than waiting to be scared, I had a hard time walking upstairs alone to my bedroom after watching this. I am a horror film fan and I am not easily scared anymore, but I had not been so terrified in years.
I give it a nine because the resolution at the end is not complete. I usually like closure at the end of the film, but again, that could mean that until the war is over, evil has not gone away.
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.
While it traffics in cliche's at times, echoing films like 'Repulsion',
'The Shining', 'The Devil's Backbone', 'The Exorcist' and 'Don't Look
Now' -- to name only some -- 'Under the Shadow' is given freshness and
depth of interest being set in Arabic/Muslim culture (Iran) and
thematic depth and power by being set near the end of the terrible 8
year long Iran/Iraq war, with all its human and political horrors.
Those human terrors make the horrors of the spirits only part of what
is so nightmarish in the film's world. (And if you noticed, all the
films I mentioned it echoing are terrific, intelligent films that also
transcend 'horror' to traffic in larger themes).
The story is timeless a child being haunted, her soul being captured through a loved doll. But the specifics are striking, the performances understated and effective, the style original and intense. And the metaphors plentiful and intelligent. Trapped in a haunted apartment house by the escalating war, lead character Shideh is also trapped as a woman by a society that insists she hide herself and her body, her past liberal activism used by the patriarchal right-wing power structure that insures she will never achieve her dream of being a doctor. This has left Shideh bitter, and ironically somewhat cut off from even the positive sides of the very role of wife and mother that society demands she play.
These kinds of emotional complexities aren't what one expects from a 'horror' film, but they're a welcome reminder that it can be a powerful genre to explore human behavior.
I do wish it had been as creative on the horror level as on the character and thematic ones. Far too often I saw the scares coming, and found them not all that surprising. But overall that didn't bother me too much -- this was a breath of fresh air in all the details, even if the broad stokes were as old as ghost stories themselves.
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