Horror cinema is often limited to its wheelhouse of established fears – ghosts, demons, strangers, monsters, or disturbing details. Horror hounds are always looking for different scares though, and are always welcoming of a filmmaker’s ambition. Failure is still an option, but the best case scenario is that these directorial risks pay off and make lasting provocative impressions – much like Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow. It’s an incredible horror film that deals with not just the supernatural, but also war and political strife as horror subjects.
Under the Shadow takes place in a Tehran household during the Iran-Iraq war, at a time when Iraq was bombing populated areas of Tehran, causing many of the inhabitants to leave for the north. The protagonists are a young woman who lives in the house with her child, and her husband having just been conscripted into the war. Her daughter’s doll goes missing one day, at about the same time that the daughter is told stories about djinns (common fantastical creatres in Arabian folklore).
Immediately, the film stacks up a variety of terrors, which include the constant dread of death that comes with being in a war zone, the sense of isolation that comes as a result of fleeing citizens, the political climate that criminalizes a variety of objects including the protagonist’s gender, and an unfamiliar horror entity (a diversion from the familiar Christian demon). It’s important to note that, despite the seeming oversaturation, Under the Shadow is in no way harmed by these multiple layers. In fact, the film becomes more diverse and scarier to different people for different reasons.
Along with great performances from the cast, an atmospheric score and some great visual work, Under the Shadow may very well be one of the best horror films of all time; one which is not only memorable, but also includes the best jump scares since Neil Marshall’s The Descent along with one of the most original and symbolic evil figures to appear in a horror film.
It cannot be overstated how much this film is a game changer. If financially successful, we could be talking about Under the Shadow in the same breath as other films which have caused the creation or resurgence of horror subgenres.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam