Under the Shadow (Netflix Review)

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15 – 84mins – 2016



“A woman should be scared of exposing herself above everything else.”

Set against the sobering backdrop of the War of the Cities during the Iran-Iraq conflict of the 1980s, this Tehran-set spine-tingler manages to astutely capture both the palpable anxiety civilian’s felt living with the threat of missiles literally crushing their homes and the repressive social inequality of the period metaphorically crushing their livelihoods.

“That’s the climate right now. Don’t let it change you.”

Narges Rashidi plays Shideh, a crusading intellect who is reduced to the role of stay at home mum to daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) when the University deny her the opportunity to continue her medical studies and her doctor husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), is sent to the front line.

When young Dorsa starts hearing footsteps wandering the hallway at night and her prized doll, Kimia, vanishes, the line between fear both real and imaginary is blurred as the vulnerable mother and her daughter grow increasingly susceptible to a nightmarish supernatural spectre from Islamic folklore: the Djinn.

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“She comes when you are not around…”

Slow-burning and delicately paced with the household hauntings snowballing from whispered campfire stories between the children into full-blown manifestations, auteur Babak Anvari’s assured debut moves into more traditional ghost story territory with shades of The Babadook. Notching up an array of corner-of-the-eye chills and heart-juddering jump scares amidst stifling conditions, Under the Shadow successfully raises your hackles.

Largely seen as a wispy hijab, strained attempts to ramp up the diversity of the Djinn’s supernatural abilities come the desperate escape finale only succeed in marring the moderated atmosphere with Krampus-esque absurdities. I could happily have done without a visual as outlandish as ‘hood mouth,’ proving that in horror, restraint is often more evocative than excess. While Iran needed to lift the lid on its outdated repressiveness, Under the Shadow impressed me most when it kept its spectre under wraps.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

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