Friday, February 3, 2017

Under the Shadow

Under the Shadow
Babak Anvari

Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a student who has been denied remittance to medical school due to her political activities in post-revolution Iran. Defeated, she is resigned to taking care her daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), while her is drafted and sent to the front during the Iran-Iraq War. One day, an unexploded Iraqi missile lands in the apartment above them, bringing with it a djinn that threatens to haunt Shideh forever.

Although the comparisons to the Babadook (2014) are inevitable, both films place an isolated mother and her child against encroaching horrors both domestic and supernatural, Under the Shadow is a tale of political horror just as much as it is one of personal horror. Shideh is besieged from every possible direction, her home has been invaded, her country is under threat from a foreign power, and by virtue of being a woman and a political dissident, her own homeland is pitted against her. Under the Shadow is masterful at taking these various threats and pushing Shideh closer and closer to the brink. Doom lays heavy over her head from the very moment she appears on screen.

Me watching movies to review.
When real historic tragedy and war is woven into a supernatural horror film, there is always the risk of one diminishing the other. Fortunately, Under the Shadow keeps its supernatural threat minimized and nearly inseparable from approaching calamity of Iraqi missile attacks. When the djinn makes its presence known, it’s often a strange and terrifying moment of uncertainty. It’s certainly possible to read all of the uncanny events in this film as merely a metaphor or evidence of Shideh’s decaying state of mind, but I think it lessens the depth that this film is capable of demonstrating.

Narges Rashidi has the carry the bulk of the story. Shideh is an interesting character, slowly being ground down by the stringent religious rules imposed on her in post-revolution Iran, she nevertheless still has a rebellious streak as evidenced by the fact she has a contraband VCR and likes to work out to Jane Fonda tapes. Outside she conforms enough to get through the day, but behind closed doors she resists the patronizing overtures of her husband. Narges makes it all work in a believable naturalistic fashion. The other actor, who has plenty of screen time, is Avin Manshadi as Dorsa. Child actors can often drag down a movie, but Dorsa comes across as an earnest, if occasionally irritating child. I think that was the intent, seeing as she’s very young and faced with huge events beyond her comprehension. The end result is she gets hyperfocused on a single thing, her doll.

Me after the 2016 presidential election.
The look of the film is muted and dusty. Most of the film takes places in an apartment complex, and while it is initially bright and orderly, it slowly becomes a dirty mess as Shideh’s situation becomes dire.  The X of tape across a window that supposed to keep the glass from shattering if a bomb should drop becomes a reoccurring motif as its protection falters. 

Under the Shadow is magnificent horror film that is both frightening and poignant. It’s been put on Netflix and DVD with little fanfare but it is very much worth seeking out.

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