Post-revolution Iran is not the usual go-to for a gothic supernatural horror, but that doesn’t stop filmmaker, Babak Anvari, using it as the backdrop for his directorial debut. Shideh, played by Narges Rashidi, is a westernised mother living with her family in an apartment block in 1980s Tehran. Having been denied the right to return to university because of her left wing leanings, Shideh spends her time working out to Jane Fonda videos and mourning the loss of her mother six months previously. With her husband away on the frontline, Shideh is left alone with her daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), amidst the sirens and enemy fire that rocks their home.
Like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Under The Shadow pushes the mother/child relationship to the centre of its premise. When a bomb falls on her building but fails to detonate, Shideh refuses to leave like the rest of the tenants. And when rumours of a supernatural presence, a Djinn, is stalking the corridors, she refuses to acknowledge them, believing everyone to be superstitious, including Dorsa. However, Shideh, defiant in her country’s current political climate, is slowly undone as the Djinn makes its presence known.
Not everyone will have a deep understanding of the Iran-Iraq conflict, although Anvari quickly sets up the tone of the era from minute one. However, we all have an understanding of growing fear, and that bubbling sensation in our core that signals that something lurks outside of our peripheral vision. Anvari captures that universal feeling and throws it back at us in dark shadows and symbolism; the cracks in Shideh’s ceiling expand at the same rate as those in her resistance to everything. Anvari’s Under The Shadow is a superb debut, with the director utilising a unique perspective to ply his horror trade.
Under The Shadow plays at The Melbourne International Film Festival on July 29 and July 30. To buy tickets to Under The Shadow, head to the official website.