Under the Shadow15¦ Limited Edition Blu-ray
Wherever war rages it brings with it its own unique horrors. Not content with solely capturing the grotesque nature of warfare, Iranian-born director Babak Anvari decided to set his horror tale slap bang in the middle of a modern war zone no less.
The result is his remarkable 2016 debut Under the Shadow, which gets a hugely welcome limited edition Blu-ray release.
The bombs have been raining down on Tehran for years now, with still no end in sight. It’s no wonder that the community that still live in Iran’s capital, do their best to adhere to the adage ‘stay calm and carry on’.
Hoping to move on with her life is Shideh (Narges Rashidi); as a student, she got caught up in the political milieu of the time as so many did. Now, married and with young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), she has decided to return to her studies to become a doctor.
But after a meeting with an academic, who informs her it won’t be possible, Shideh finds herself back at square one again.
With the war seemingly intensifying, her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi), a doctor himself, is called away to help out where he can. This leaves Shideh and Dorsa alone in their apartment building, with only a handful of neighbours.
Although her husband is keen for the pair to leave the city, Shideh is adamant to remain, as she doesn’t want to appear to be a burden on his family.
As if bombs falling all around them wasn’t enough, sending them to the basement of the building during air raids, Dorsa is spooked by a story told to her by visiting child. When Dorsa tells her mum about the Djinns – evil creatures that can cause harm – Shideh is quick to dismiss the ancient myth that was told to scare all children.
But when unexplainable events start to happen inside the building, Shideh begins to wonder if there may be something to the Djinn legend after all.
Of all the places to set a horror film, in the middle of a long-running conflict in the Middle East, sounds the least plausible. It’s just a combination that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to work, but somehow does.
What makes it even more astonishing is that Anvari has managed it with his first film. Actually, not just managed it, but absolutely nailed it.
It may be set in an extremely foreign land, certainly where horror is concerned, but the young director has produced a finely-tuned frightfest, embracing all the conventions that come with it.
At its heart, Under the Shadow is a haunted house film. A terrific one at that. The horror is drawn from, as is often the case, evil’s relationship with a child. The adult protagonist is quick to dismiss these rants, as there are no such things as ghouls and ghosts. The more time she spends in the building however, the more she comes around to her daughter’s way of thinking.
Often in horror films, there is a correlation between the size of the budget and the impact of the scares: the bigger the budget the greater the opportunity to scare your audience witless. This film however, is the perfect example of what you can do on a shoestring.
Anvari has managed to produce a truly terrifying film. It may well adhere to the conventions of the genre, but it does so exceedingly well. There are a number of genuinely scary scenes that have the power to cause many a sleepless night.
And as mentioned in an interview with the director that can be found on this limited edition, you cannot underestimate the savvy use of sound throughout. Anvari is constantly using it to unsettle the audience with impressive results.
He also manages to get much from Rashidi and the young Manshadi, both of whom you will totally buy into as being highly spooked by all the ghostly goings on.
Under the Shadow is an unexpected pleasure; it’s the type of feature you sit down in front of with a bullish ‘go on then, show us what you’ve got’ attitude, only for you to be as white as a sheet at the end of it, wishing you’d never asked.
A haunting gem.