It’s 1988 in Tehran, the Iran-Irag War is raging and people are all living on the edge, fearing for their lives everyday as bombs are constantly raining down on the city. Shideh (Narges Rashdi) has hit a bit of a rough spot in her professional career and has been left at home with her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) while her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi), a doctor, is sent away. While alone in their apartment, a missile crashes through the ceiling but it doesn’t explode. After the terrifying incident, Dorsa grows sick and is running a constant fever and the doctors have no explanation for it. As the other people in her complex begin to flee the city, Shideh is going to stick it out for the time being. There’s something else in the apartment with them, something she believes is a Djinn. The unseen force has taken Dorsa’s doll and that is why she has grown so sick. As much as Shideh is ready to leave, she has to find the doll in order to save her daughter.
UNDER THE SHADOW is an interesting picture. It moves at an insanely slow pace while tension is building in the background. It’s never really apparent that you’re watching a horror film until you’ve reached the final twenty minutes or so. This could end up being an issue for some but if you’re willing to stick with it, you won’t be disappointed. It’s interesting to see a horror film like this, one with a set up we’ve seen before, told through the eyes of a woman, from a culture American audiences aren’t used to seeing represented on screen. For this reason alone, UNDER THE SHADOW rises above your standard fare. The first portion of the film focuses on Shideh’s attempts at going to medical school but they’re thwarted do to some things she had done in her past. This is the catalyst that sets the story in motion and allowing the actors to really show what they’ve got. Narges Rashdi and Avin Manshadi have a believable chemistry as mother and daughter. As their relationship becomes strained, both actresses deliver hauntingly real performances. For someone writing and directing their first project, Babak Anvari has crafted a highly intelligent and mature thriller. Instead of focusing on jump scares and cheap thrills, Anvari focuses on building tension before hammering you with the macabre. I have a feeling you’ll be hearing an awful lot about this film in the coming weeks. There’s already a Netflix deal in place which could prove to be a terrific platform to launch this film to a far wider audience than most would have thought.