Under the Shadow (15) – A Preview

Directed by Babak Anvari, Iran/Jordan/UK, 2016, 84 mins, subtitles
With Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobi Naderi

As an Iranian brought up in Britain, director Babak Anvari is well placed to explore the challenges of a liberal-minded, western-leaning Iranian family claustrophobically trapped by the twin terrors of the Iran/Iraq war and sharia law. That he chooses to do so through the medium of a horror film is both audacious and unsettling.

This is not the first time that a thriller has been used as the means to say something about the uniquely close relationship between mother and child. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook quickly springs to mind, as does Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. But in Anvari’s assured debut feature, he sets that relationship within the context of the already perilous theatre of war. Combined with Kit Fraser’s giddy cinematographer and Alex Joseph’s queasy sound design, Anwari places Narges Rashidi’s Shideh into a world that is already nightmarish, letting supernatural horrors ambiguously seep into the conflict all about her.

And if it seems a little grand to call this movie a metaphor for familial and military conflict, it should be said that it’s also rollicking rollercoaster ride. Packed with some good, old fashioned frights along the way, it will have you checking under the bed when you get home.

By David Vass