Film Review: Under the Shadow

In association with Glasgow Film Theatre


With Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and The Conjuring 2, horror has been one of the surprisingly stronger genres this year, but Under the Shadow might just be the best film yet. The directorial debut of Babak Anvari depicts a mother (Narges Rashidi) and her young daughter struggling to cope with the terrors of a war-torn, post-revolution Tehran, all whilst a mysterious evil seems to be haunting their home.

From this film, one can draw favourable comparisons to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. Both focus on a mother struggling to raise a child whilst something sinister lurks about. However, history plays an important role in painting the mother’s woes in Under the Shadow. Whether it be struggles against the Iranian Government of the time, the dangers of the war or her own daughter mistrusting her, this character attempts to fit into a world that rejects her and the ominous presence in her home adds to her constant fear. It’s a character that walks the tightrope between strength and vulnerability wonderfully, portrayed brilliantly by Narges Rashidi’s captivating performance.

Something this film does superbly is atmosphere. Watching Under the Shadow is a chilling, nail biting experience. The film confines itself mostly to a small flat and the condensed nature of the setup creates a feeling of intense claustrophobia. This is further supported by a magnificent display of cinematography. Swift, fluid movements create the sense of constant insecurity, panning up and down. Since the evil presence seems to be coming from above and the family has to go below to the bomb shelter during raids, the idea that nowhere is safe and that the characters are stuck between the two is reinforced.

And what terrific sound design too! Sound deliberately replaces music in most scenes to give the film a more realistic and ultimately eerier feel. It makes the atmosphere feel all the more uncanny. And it doesn’t resort to cheap jump scares either, relying purely on dread as the building blocks of tension, like a good horror film should.

Under the Shadow is fantastic. It’s a spine-tingling delight, rich in atmosphere and suspense and supremely well-crafted. It’s arguably a little slow paced at first but once the essential groundwork is laid and the film starts getting spooky it becomes a riveting treat for horror fans all around. What a great start to Babak Anvari’s career!

[Calum Cooper]

*The film will be running at Glasgow Film Theatre from the 30th of September to the 6th of October. Tickets here.

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