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|Under the Shadow|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Babak Anvari|
|Written by||Babak Anvari|
|Music by||Gavin Cullen|
|Edited by||Christopher Barwell|
Under the Shadow is a 2016 internationally co-produced horror film written and directed by Iranian-born Babak Anvari as his directorial debut. A mother and daughter are haunted by a mysterious evil in 1980s Tehran, during the War of the Cities. The film stars Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, and Arash Marandi.
Produced by British film company Wigwam Films, the film is an international co-production between Qatar, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and has been acquired by US streaming service Netflix. It was selected as the British entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.
Amidst the terrors of war-torn post-revolutionary Tehran in the 1980s, former medical student Shideh is barred from resuming her studies because of her involvement with student leftist groups. Upon returning home, she gets rid of most of her old medical textbooks, but keeps a book of medical physiology given to her by her deceased mother. The war intensifying, Shideh elects to stay in the city with her daughter Dorsa despite the protests of her husband Iraj, a doctor who is called by the military and assigned to an area of heavy fighting. Iraj wants Shideh to stay with his parents in a safer part of the country, but Shideh refuses. Dorsa is upset to see her father go, and Iraj promises her that her favorite doll, Kimia, will protect her.
A new boy moves in with the neighboring Ebrahimi family, who are his cousins; his parents were killed in an attack. During a shelling, he whispers something into Dorsa's ear and hands her a charm to ward off evil spirits. Dorsa tells Shideh that the boy told her about the legend of the Djinn, and that the charm would protect her, though Shideh throws it away. Shideh visits Mrs. Ebrahimi, who informs her that the boy has been mute ever since the death of his parents. Dorsa develops a fever and has a slew of nightmares, and Shideh is also haunted by bad dreams.
During another shelling, a missile strikes their building, and an upstairs neighbor dies of a heart attack. Kimia goes missing in the commotion, and Dorsa insists that someone took her. Her behavior also becomes disturbed and erratic; she insists there is a strange presence in the house, and repeatedly tries to get into the upper floor, believing that Kimia is there. The daughter of the deceased neighbor visits Shideh and claims that her father was unaffected by the missile impact but she found him looking terrified, as if he had seen a ghost.
The neighbors gradually begin to leave to escape the fighting. Mrs. Ebrahimi warns Shideh that djinns may possess humans, and they will steal a beloved personal item of their victims. The Ebrahimis leave too, until Dorsa and Shideh are the only two inhabitants left in the building. Shideh's nightmares get worse, and her own items start to go missing. Her nightmares escalate to visions involving a floating chador that moves like a ghost. Dorsa admits to seeing the same apparitions, but claims that the ghostly woman in the chador wants to help her find Kimia. Shideh finally wants to leave to go to her husband's parents, but Dorsa refuses to leave until Kimia is found. Shideh receives a call seemingly from Iraj, but the caller begins to berate her for being a poor mother, as the djinn did. Shideh finds a mutilated Kimia, which upsets Dorsa. Shideh repairs Kimia with tape, but when they are about to leave, another air raid siren goes off.
Shideh promises Dorsa that they will escape, but while going down to the shelter, she hears Dorsa's screams. She panics, believing that the Dorsa she left with is another apparition, and returns home to find Dorsa. She sees what appears to be Dorsa under their bed, but when trying to rescue her, she discovers with horror that it is an apparition. Escaping to the shelter, she finds the real Dorsa. The two are attacked by the chador apparition, which separates the two before Shideh manages to find Dorsa. She urges Dorsa back up the stairs but is trapped when the floor begins to suck her down. Dorsa rescues Shideh and the two escape to the car, and Shideh drives them to Iraj's parents. However, it is revealed that Kimia's detached head was left behind and Shideh's medical textbook is still in the djinn's possession, implying they may still be harassed.
Also in the cast are Ehab Rousan and Rami Mehyar as revolutionary guards, Ahmad Mehyar and Abu Rashed as paramedics and Zeid Jad and Motasem Younis as fire-fighters.
The film's global premiere was in January 2016 at the Sundance Film Festival. The rights to the film were subsequently acquired by streaming service Netflix; Vertical Entertainment and XYZ Films will assist in VOD releases and a limited theatrical showing starting on 7 October in the United States.
Based on 67 reviews, Under the Shadow holds a 99% "Certified Fresh" rating and an average score of 8.1/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, with its critics consensus reading, "Under the Shadow deftly blends seemingly disparate genres to deliver an effective chiller with timely themes and thought-provoking social subtext". The film currently holds a score of 86/100 on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim". Indiewire praised its spin on the narratives of the horror genre, and The Hollywood Reporter praised Rashidi's performance and Anvari's directing.