Under the Shadow - The Riles Review
Day 2 into the Melbourne International Film Festival and I’d potentially already found the scariest film of the season. Under the Shadow. What’s under the shadow exactly? Nothing you really want to find if you're wearing fresh underpants.
Under the Shadow is about Shideh and her family, living in dangerous 1980s Tehran. When her husband has to leave for mandatory enlistment, Shideh is left to the peril of hysteria and possible evil amidst her home, terrorising her and her daughter.
To be honest, I only really bought tickets for this movie because it fit my schedule and there was a pleasant quote from Indiewire on the MIFF website. I had no idea who was in it or who directed it, and I felt like a tool when the director stood in front of the audience and said thanks to everyone for watching it. But I am so glad I accidentally stumbled into this. The film boasts an overlooked setting and time period, and offered an unconventional and uniquely terrifying story. Shideh’s story is an incredibly strong tale, not only considering the setting, but the way that other people and the supernatural forces interact with her. It truly feels like Shideh has no support and all of the odds are stacked against her, making for a conclusion that really shakes your foundations. The story juggles the notion that what is happening to her small family is just the product of paranoia. In a time when trips to the bomb shelter were a daily occurrence, some things seem too difficult to explain, and the film does an excellent job of showing a descent out of the realms of sanity without painting all of the characters as completely bonkers.
The setting, being the apartment block that Shideh’s family lives in, is incredibly intimate. Without leaving the block too much, the film never exhausts the small amount of locations, particularly because the familiarity becomes threatening as the plot moves forward. The film also avoids falling into the trap of predictable or idiotic character decisions as well. It's a small cast of well-written and well-portrayed characters. You don't want to slap any of them, because they're doing exactly what you would do. If they weren't such interesting people this might've sunk, because the film moves at a slightly strange, slowly developing pace. The background of the real malevolence terrorising the block is sort of skimmed over, but you're left in a tense position, and that tension doesn't really settle for the entirety of the film. The scares are strong and are aplenty.
With so little characters, everyone participating are phenomenal. Shideh, played by Narges Rashidi, is a strongly written and portrayed woman. She is brave and afraid, and never making the eye-rolling decisions you sadly come to expect from horror movie characters, let alone the basic stereotypes actresses are left with in the genre. Her daughter, Avin Manshadi, is equally as good, even if she's not as involved. For someone no older than seven or eight she can draw presence and suspense like a pro.
Wrapping it up...
Under the Shadow is a film that I think will undeservedly fly under the radar for a lot of people. It's an excellent addition to the horror genre, with a strong setting and a fantastic female lead, Under the Shadow should be on everyone's list, because it’s one of the better genre films of the last few years, and Babak Anvari is a new director to be afraid of.
Under the Shadow - 9/10