Starring: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi
Director: Babak Anvari
Running Time: 84 mins
Under The Shadow is a British film about a woman and her daughter who remain in their apartment building as Iraqi forces step up missile attacks during the Iran-Iraq War. However, as the bombing becomes worse, dark forces begin to tear their bond apart and bring chaos to their lives.
This film is very atmospheric, with strong directing from Babak Anvari and an impressive lead performance from Narges Rashidi that helps to make an effectively unnerving film throughout. That uneasy nature makes for a pretty entertaining horror watch, although the story isn’t quite as emotionally traumatic nor politically thrilling as it aims to be, and leads the film down a somewhat unspectacular path that was a real disappointment for me to see.
That said, let’s kick off with the best part of the film: the directing. Incredibly reminiscent of 2014’s The Babadook, Under The Shadow is a very well-helmed movie, effectively building tension throughout its first act to make for an unconventional leap into the horror genre about halfway through.
Babak Anvari then has an absolute field day playing with all the tropes of the horror genre and making them work as well as possible. I won’t say that Under The Shadow is a particularly scary film, but it seems that Anvari’s main objective for the film is to gradually unsettle you more and more, and thanks to the way the film evolves so much visually from start to finish, going from a frank depiction of 1980s Iran to a spooky haunted house, is very exciting to see.
The other big positive I drew from this movie was the lead performance by Narges Rashidi. The film’s underlying message ranges from one about political oppression in Iran at the time to one about the nature of the nuclear family, and although I wasn’t always blown away by that, Rashidi makes those messages well-known throughout the film with a spirited and engrossing performance, bringing the highest level of emotional trauma to the table as her already highly-strung character begins to lose her cool as more and more strange happenings occur.
The story is where this film falls down most for me. Again, similar to how I felt about The Babadook, the first act moves along very nicely, with the film’s central messages (in the case of this film politics and family) taking centre stage and making for both a riveting and unnerving watch.
However, as the film becomes more and more of a horror, it begins to lose its deeper appeal. Whilst I was still entertained by the visual power of Anvari’s direction, some of the plot’s somewhat generic routes didn’t really thrill me as much as I felt was possible, and although remaining a decidedly creepy movie, the more and more this film turned into a haunted house story, the less and less emotionally enthralling I found it.
Overall, Under The Shadow is an effectively unnerving film, and one with excellent direction and performances that go a long way to achieving that. It maintains its creepy atmosphere from start to finish, however the strong and riveting messages of the first act don’t, and the second half of the movie begins to feel too much like a typical horror film, lacking in the depth that I was really looking for, which is why I’m giving this a 7.3.