Original Title: Under the Shadow
Country: Iran (Qatar, UK, Jordan)
Director: Babak Anvari
Genre: Horror, Thriller
30.12.2019: This review was first published on 01.05.2018 and is being updated for a more complete review, together with the publishing of the YouTube Version.
Hello, welcome to Ulven Reviews!
Under the Shadow, it’s a (kinda) Iranian movie directed by Babak Anvari and released in released 2016. It accompanies the mother of a girl who thinks there’s a Djinn in their house.
World Cup Historic
Let’s talk about one of the six national teams I already saw playing live in the stadium.
The Iranian football team was Founded in 1920, but only their first World Cup was in 78. The conflicts in the country left them out of 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
Since then, they qualified for four World Cups, including 2014 and 2018, making it the first time they qualified for two consecutive tournaments. In their total of five participations, they never made out of the group stage.
They still never won more than one game in any of the editions, but in Russia 2018 was when they got their best record, with four points in one win, one draw and one defeat.
Under the Shadow is an international production that included Qatar, the UK, Jordan, and, of course, Iran. The Iranian director Babak Anvari led an Iranian cast to make this movie in Farsi and set in Iran.
To be a little more exact about the circumstances inside the movie, it’s in Tehran, the capital city of Iran, during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). It also has references to the Iranian revolution of the 70s.
The Iranian Revolution culminated with the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini as the first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In other words, they changed an authoritarian Monarchy for an authoritarian Theocracy.
By the way, if you’re Iranian and are watching this, don’t be offended, I criticize every country, including my own. For example, the leader of my country is one of the most stupid and incompetent individuals on the entire planet, including not just world leaders, but also the common folk.
Back to the revolution, many groups were participating in protests, including some left-leaning groups such as student movements. I believe the protagonist of Under the Shadow took part in a student movement of this sort.
Shideh (played by Narges Rashidi) was a med student engaged in political activism during the Iranian Revolution. After the reopening of the Universities, post-revolution, she became a stay-home-mom and housewife, never returning to University.
Years after, when she decided to return, she was labeled as a leftist activist by the University, making it impossible for her return to the medic school.
Once a young med student taking part in a revolution, she suddenly sees herself as a housewife and mother, resenting her husband, Iraj (played by Bobby Naderi), who graduated and became a doctor.
While this internal conflict is happening inside Shideh’s household, outside, the Iran-Iraq War is happening. Iraj is called to serve as a doctor in the front, leaving Shideh and their daughter Dorsa (played by Avin Manshadi) alone in the house.
The war is getting closer and closer to Tehran, but Shideh refuses to leave home to go live in with her parents-in-law. And, as if the entire situation is not bad enough, Dorsa believes there is a Djinn in their building and that it stole her doll.
Under the Shadow is much more than just a supernatural threat. The relationship between mother and daughter is the main thing, beginning with Shideh and her dead mother, and of course, Shideh and her daughter Dorsa.
There is also much about war, since the very beginning of the film. It starts with a screen talking about the war, followed by real footage of it. Soon, during Shideh’s conversation with the director of the University, we can see a missile falling from the sky until it hits the buildings.
Another theme that often comes into play is the feminine. Besides the mother-daughter relationship, we can see things like the mandatory use of the veil, women being considered weaker, what’s socially expected from them, and so on. Every one of these issues is brought up in a natural, not forced way.
All these details make the movie more original when compared with mainstream horror films of the last decades. Under the Shadow is part of a tendency of more complex films in the horror genre of the end of this decade.
Movies like It Follows and The Babadook (both from 2014), followed by The VVitch: A New-England Folktale (from 2015) and culminating in Get Out! (from 2017), which became an Oscar Winner. There are many more, but these were among the most talked about.
The Djinn is something we don’t often see as we see here. Usually, a Djinn is like the Genie in Aladdin, a nice lad made of smoke who grants you three wishes.
I remember Djinns ad evil and demonic in Supernatural (2005-present)and the Netflix Series The Witcher (2019-present), maybe Grimm (that aired from 2011 to 2017) also had a Djinn, but I’m not entirely sure.
The characters are very believable, Shideh usually grumpy, losing her temper with Dorsa, but also being a very caring and loveable mother. Dorsa is also good, she is a child, sometimes kids get on our nerves, other times they’re cute.
There are few scenes with Iraj because he is drafted to the war, and the movie is set in the building they live in. Either way, Iraj is believable as well, I don’t like or dislike him, he’s just there.
Another interesting character is Mehdi (played by Karam Rashayda), a boy living in the building with his relatives after his parents died. He has even fewer scenes than Iraj, and he’s mute, but his presence is at the same time eerie and sad, because of his story.
Mehdi is a representative of the many children orphaned and traumatized by a war they have nothing to do with. He has a role in the plot, but he’s also a commentary on the horrors of war.
I was captivated by Avin Manshadi’s performance as Dorsa. There are some very awful kid’s acting because they’re kids and have a lot to learn, so I always like to see a kid doing good.
Props to Babak Anvari in creating a child character that acts like a child, not as a mini-adult. Dorsa is a little girl who loves her doll, wants to play tea parties with her mother, and gets bored when there’s nothing to do.
The best acting by far is from Narges Rashidi, she is perfect in this role. With her performance in Under the Shadow, she gained quite a reputation worldwide, we’ll probably see a lot more of her in the future.
The score was very minimalistic, yet noticeable because it helped to enhance the moments of tension. Some scores, we like as much as to listen to it as non-soundtrack music, it’s not the case here, but it was perfect as a score for the movie.
Talking about tension, often, these moments culminate in a jump-scare. Jump-scares have a fame of being cheap, but when it’s well done, it’s something that adds some dimension to the horror aspect of the movie.
In this movie, there are good jump-scares and bad jump-scares. For example, a bad one is when Dorsa wets her bed, the transition to the next scene is a toast coming out of the toaster suddenly. A toast is not scary, and it didn’t add anything to the plot.
A good example is, well… Both Shideh and Dorsa have trouble sleeping, Shideh is even said to have episodes of somnambulism. So the nights are a fertile ground to include some nice jump-scares.
The cinematography was another thing that drew my attention. The colors and lighting are beautiful and match perfectly with the tone of the movie. The camera movements were also great.
I loved a scene where Shideh is in bed, Dorsa enters her room and say she can’t sleep. The way the camera accompanies Shideh’s movements is great, surreal in one shot, and real in the next shot.
I liked everything about Under the Shadow. The acting, the visuals, the story, and how well was everything executed. The score is not a masterpiece but fits well within the film.
That’s a good horror movie, relying on good characters and situations, not on tits and jump-scares just for the sake of it.
I’m was tired of the, now dated, state of the mainstream horror movies so, see something different, with good quality and execution under the horror genre, is very refreshing.
I didn’t like it enough to give it a 10, but it’s no doubt 9 Moons.