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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 (Persian: زیر سایه Zir-e Sayeh) 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 terminology gifted to her by her recently 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 take Dorsa and stay with his parents in a safer part of the country, but Shideh, irritated at his offhand response to her barring, 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 while cleaning Dorsa's room. Shideh visits Mrs. Ebrahimi and asks her to tell her relative to not scare Dorsa with ghost stories, but a surprised Mrs. Ebrahimi informs her that the boy has been mute ever since the deaths of his parents. Dorsa develops a fever and has a slew of nightmares, and Shideh is also haunted by similar bad dreams.
During another shelling, a missile strikes their building, causing a large crack in Shideh's ceiling. The impact apparently leaves Dorsa unconscious, 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, about to leave town, visits Shideh and asks Dorsa about the spirits she has been talking about. When Shideh questions her, the neighbor claims that her father was unaffected by the missile impact, but after she returned with water for him, she found him looking terrified, as if he had seen a ghost. Shideh dismisses her story and insists that it was a simple heart attack brought on by the missile.
The neighbors gradually begin to leave to escape the fighting. Mrs. Ebrahimi invites Shideh into her home and asks her about Dorsa's strange behavior, convinced that the djinn is real. She warns her that djinns may possess humans, and they will steal a beloved personal item of their victims and will not rest until they have ensnared them. The mute orphan also asks Shideh if she has found Dorsa's doll. The Ebrahimis also leave, and Dorsa and Shideh are the only two inhabitants left in the building. Shideh's nightmares intensify, and her own items start to go missing, such as her favorite (though banned) exercise tape that she finds in the trash. When she questions Dorsa about it, Dorsa claims she didn't do it.
Shideh's nightmares escalate to visions involving a half-naked elderly man that disappears into the crack in the ceiling and a floating chador that moves like a ghost. When she attempts to flee after a particularly vivid episode, she is apprehended by the police for not being properly covered and is sent back. Dorsa also admits to seeing the apparitions, but claims that the ghostly woman in the chador wants to help her find Kimia and will take care of her. Shideh finally wants to leave to go to the home of Iraj's parents, but Dorsa refuses to leave until Kimia is found. Shideh is unable to find it after tearing the house apart. She also receives a call from what seems to be Iraj, but the caller begins to berate and harass her for being a poor mother, as the djinn did. When Shideh looks through the hole that the missile created in the hole of the building, she sees the textbook that her mother gave her lying in the rubble. Shocked, she goes to where she kept her old textbook to find a mutilated Kimia, which upsets Dorsa. Shideh repairs Kimia with tape, and they are about to leave when another air raid siren goes off.
Shideh promises Dorsa that they will escape after it is safe to leave, but while going downstairs to the shelter, she hears Dorsa's screams coming from their home. Shideh panics, believing that the Dorsa she left with is another apparition, and returns to the 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 another apparition. Escaping to the shelter, she finds Dorsa there, who is angry that Shideh left again. The two are then attacked by the chador apparition, which overtakes the room and separates the two before Shideh manages to find Dorsa and tear them free. She urges Dorsa back up the stairs but is trapped when the floor begins to suck her down. Dorsa sets Kimia down and rescues Shideh by pulling her up. The two escape to the car, and Shideh, unable to get the garage door open, drives through it and resolutely travels to Iraj's parents. However, it is revealed that Kimia's detached head was left behind in the basement shelter and Shideh's medical textbook is still in possession of the djinn, 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 53 reviews, Under the Shadow holds a 98% "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.