Under the Shadow

Directed by Babak Anvari
Starring Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi and Bijan Daneshmand
In UK Cinemas September 30th, 2016

Our interview with Under the Shadow director Babak Anvari

by Joanna Orland

Presented as a horror film, Under the Shadow is a social and political allegory, powerfully feminist at its core.  Set in 1988 Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war, the film focuses on Shideh (Rashidi) as her husband is drafted to war and she’s left on her own to care for their daughter Dorsa (Manshadi).  Under the Shadow can be interpreted as a psychological thriller as much as it can a horror, with Shideh’s insecurities as a mother, her repression as a woman, and the stress of war take its toll on her mental and emotional state.  Paranoia and anxiety take over as Shideh believes her apartment is being haunted by demonic Djinn.

Shideh was a political activist when she was in medical school at the dawn of the Iranian cultural movement.  Her activism caused her to lose her right to study, and the movement caused her to lose her independence as a woman – forced to dress and behave modestly in the new society.  Longing to return to medical school to fulfill her wish to become a doctor, Sideh feels inferior as a doctor, as a mother, and now as a woman as her idea of ‘female’ is no longer congruent with society’s.  The unrest caused by the war heightens her anxiety, putting further strain on her relationship with her daughter.  This is gracefully nuanced commentary on the turmoils of being female in such a society…. or any society.  In the words of Anvari, “It’s mainly about how national hysteria can create personal hysteria.”

Perfectly paced and atmospherically tense, Under the Shadow‘s message is greater than its genre classification.  As I am not typically a fan of horror, my enjoyment of this film was based on its artistic merit, stunning performances and poignant message.  Horror fans too will find many things to appreciate in this film as the tension builds to jump scares galore, and dark imagery that will haunt me for weeks.  But what will also haunt me is the human side of this story, inspired by the director’s upbringing in Tehran.  Beautifully told, this story is truly about the human side of war, political turmoil and female oppression – all portrayed intensely through Narges Rashidi’s performance and Babak Anvari’s subtle script and inspired direction.



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