Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow @ Leeds International Film Festival
November 17, 2016
2016 has been an undeniably strange year and it seems that political farce must be our main source of entertainment, as the year’s cinematic offerings have been surprisingly muted. There’s been little to get excited about this year as the remakes, spin-offs, sequels, prequels and threequels take precedent, which is perhaps why Iranian horror film Under the Shadow has received such critical acclaim.
There’s nothing particularly bad about Under the Shadow—by all standards, it’s an effective horror film—but there’s also nothing that elevates it to the high standards of this decade’s top horrors, It Follows and The Witch. The setting is unfamiliar and provides its own narrative challenges, but a unique setting does not make a unique horror film.
The story follows a mother and daughter living in a soulless apartment in 1980s Tehran and for the most part the film doesn’t venture outside of the building. When father Iraj is summoned to contribute in the war efforts, their isolation is intensified by the presence of an aggressive spirit, or Djinn, that has stolen daughter Dorsa’s doll and is terrorising their small existence.
The scares are mostly effective, but unmemorable, and there’s an over reliance on dream sequences that undermine the tension. A final sequence involving a gigantic sheet of fabric verges on the ridiculous. The setting is effective however and director Babak Anvari really utilises the outside pressure of the Iran-Iraq War to heighten the oppressive atmosphere. In a wonderful cultural touch, the terrified lead character tries to flee the demonic spirit and is frogmarched back by police guards, incensed that she has left the house with her hair uncovered.
These moments of inspiration are rare however and ultimately Under the Shadow won’t last long in the memory. Horror is an underrepresented genre, riddled with terrible films, and this stands strong as one of the better horrors of the year – but that isn’t saying much.
Under the Shadow was screened as part of the 30th Annual Leeds International Film Festival.