Under The Shadow is a supremely scary horror film from Iran. During the first ten minutes, you’d be forgiven for wondering if you’d been mis-sold on Under The Shadow. Because while, yes, it is a supernatural horror movie about evil djinn, it starts out looking an awful lot like a drama about a family living in a warzone.
Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a young mother living in 1980s Tehran trying desperately to hold her life together as Iran-Iraq war rages on around her. Once a promising medical student, Shideh was forced out of university by Iran’s Cultural Revolution; having taken part in leftist political rallies, she’s effectively forbidden from finishing her degree, which leaves her little options other than to stay home and look after her daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). And if the external conflict seeping its way into Shideh’s home wasn’t terrifying enough, with her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) having been drafted into the service, Shideh must also face the possibility that something evil is lurking within the building itself – with its sights set firmly on Dorsa.
Because of the care that’s been taken over the film’s setting and character-building, it’s easy to see Under The Shadow as a metaphor for the horrors of war; you could choose to think of it as a story about a woman losing her grip on reality while under enormous pressure, rather than as a straightforward supernatural shocker. The film works just as well whether you believe the monsters are real or not, and the script never confirms anything either way. Let’s just say horror fans won’t be disappointed if they’re hoping for scares – there are several jump-out-of-your-skin moments of pure fear along the way.
Narges Rashidi performance is absolutely captivating, the kind of heroine you can’t help but root for despite her flaws, while first time actress Avin Manshadi totally sells her role as a child faced with incomprehensible evil. It’s the relationship between mother and child that’s the heart of the film, and the two actresses capture something that feels utterly convincing. Under The Shadow is unmissable slice of psychological horror that will linger in the back of your mind long after you turn off your tele. See it.