Under the Shadow has already enjoyed amazing reviews, and yes, this is yet another one – but one more honest than many others!
Under the Shadow is perhaps the most unexpected horror movie in many years. It’s intense and psychological, but also very much a supernatural story. And yes, let’s just get it over with, the comparisons to The Babadook are actually very relevant. Not that the stories have much in common, but the heart of both movies is the mother and child relationship.
However, where The Babadook features a mother, who is struggling and can seem week, Under the Shadow is the exact opposite. She is strong and she’s a fighter. Almost to a fault, because her intelligence and stubborness keeps her from accepting the things happening around her.
Under the Shadow could also have been titled “Under Oppression” or “Under the Veil”, because these are two of the things that are driving the story forward. The family lives under the shadow of oppression, which in the case of the mother means she has to literally live under a veil when she leaves her home. And once things start getting really crazy in their home, grabbing a veil isn’t the first thing you think of.
In some ways, I couldn’t help but compare the feeling and style of Under the Shadow to some of the Japanese horror movies we’ve seen. More specifically, Dark Water was one I could relate this movie to. Kids placed in key roles, while something dark and sinister lurks in a culture I don’t personally know, it definitely works for me!
An important history lesson within the horror story
The film takes place in a war-torn Tehran in the 1980s, and there’s a quick introduction to set the stage – and to remind us what happened in Iran around this time. And while this movie is very much a horror movie, part of the horror is actually the very real history of what happened in Tehran around this time.
It’s fascinating to follow this family – and the other people living in the apartment building – and see them trying to find a new way of life. We get to hear their concerns and the fights people have about what to do. Even if you’ve never been in a war-torn country, you can’t help but wonder how you would’ve reacted? Would you stubbornly refuse to leave your home and life behind? Would you grab the first chance to get away? And of course, you have to make these choices without knowing if it’ll all get better within a year or a decade.
Babak Anvari wrote and directed Under the Shadow. This is his directorial debut and since he was born in Iran himself, the story is no doubt close to heart in many ways. It shows! There isn’t any form of judgement towards any of the characters. If anything, it’s the usual: Listen to your kids, they know, see and understand more than you think!
You probably won’t know any of the actors, but if you’re from Germany you have a better chance of knowing the star: Narges Rashidi. Rashidi was born in Iran, but grew up in Germany and have worked on various German TV shows and TV movies. When it comes to Under the Shadow, Narges Rashidi shines! The character is pretty damn amazing, but it’s under Rashidi’s amazing acting that she really comes to life. Obviously, that’s how it always works. I know. But trust me, you’ll find yourself being in awe of her!
Under the Shadow is very much a horror movie
Since Under the Shadow has received amazing reviews and won awards at film festivals all over the world, the “horror” label has begun to fade. Suddenly, we’re reading about a “Mother-Daughter Drama”, but make no mistake; Under the Shadow is a horror story. In fact, it’s a great horror story. It has elements of war, religion, oppression and the supernatural, but all of these elements are used to further the horror. In fact, “horror” is the only genre the movie is labeled with on IMDb.
I first noticed the erasure of the horror genre, when the movie was officially selected as Britain’s Foreign-Film entry to next year’s Academy Awards. And yes, that is in itself pretty messed up. I mean, this was the headline at Variety, when the news broke: “Iranian Horror Movie ‘Under the Shadow’ Selected as U.K. Foreign-Language Oscar Entry”. So yeah, horror is part of the headline, but the first line of the story is: “Babak Anvari’s Farsi-language thriller Under the Shadow […]” and nowhere else in the story do they call the movie “horror”. Instead, thriller is repeated.
And when Indiewire covered the same story, Under the Shadow was described with these words: “UK’s selection organization, BAFTA, has submitted writer-director Babak Anvari’s well-reviewed Sundance mother-daughter drama Under the Shadow […]”. In other words, “horror” simply isn’t classy enough, which honestly pisses me off.
This is the same logic that has people saying they hate horror movies and horror authors, but somehow they still manage to love The Shinning, The Silence of the Lambs and Shawshank Redemption. Fine, the later isn’t horror, but it was written by Stephen King, who is one the greatest horror writers.
My point – and yes, I do have one – is that you, my horror loving friend, should definitely check out this movie. First and foremost, because it’s a great movie. Second, so you can correct anyone, who tries to talk about this movie as anything but horror, when it may very well win an Academy Award next year. Then again, my native Denmark has a pretty strong contender as well, and we have a pretty good track record, so we’ll see.
Under the Shadow is out on October 7 in the US, while being released on September 30 i the UK. Since its premiere at Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2016, it has had an amazing run at film festivals worldwide.
Director: Babak Anvari
Writer: Babak Anvari
Cast: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.