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Blu-ray Review

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Under the Shadow


Starring: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian anf Arash Marandi
Distributor: Second Sight Films


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 10 February 2020

This story is set in Tehran (although not filmed there). It’s 1988, and a young woman called Shideh is thrown out of medical school due to her previous politically active history. She returns home, but shortly afterwards her husband is called-up to serve near the front line in the Iran-Iraq war. The war seems to be moving increasingly closer to her tenement building. An apparently mute boy whispers a warning to Shideh’s daughter Dorsa about the Djinn – an evil spirit which brings death and disaster. When a bomb hits the building but doesn’t explode, strange events begin to take place. Dora loses her beloved doll and becomes both ill and psychologically disturbed. Neighbours leave the district in droves, but Shideh is reluctant to go. She has nowhere else, and hopes that her husband will return. It is only when Dora’s behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre that she starts to witness a malevolent spirit which seeks to possess Dora through her doll...

Although this may sound ostensibly like a Chucky or Annabelle story, it couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a taut thriller with a lot of attention to balance and claustrophobia. The authenticity could well hinge on the performance of Narges Rashidi as Shideh, but for me none of it would work without Avin Manshadi’s portrayal of Dorsa. The film has been compared in style to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook; I think it has a Guillermo Del Toro tribute or influence written all over it. There is the wartime horror/fantasy settling of Pan’s Labyrinth, but more closely the unexploding bomb scenario of The Devil’s Backbone, wherein reality is on shaky legs from the start. Look, it’s easy to say the idea has been ripped-off – and Del Toro is a master of this kind of storytelling – however, even Del Toro ripped-off Creature From the Black Lagoon with The Shape of Water, and he won an Oscar for it. They say no idea is completely original.

Director Babak Anvari has been compared with Lynch, Polanski and even Carpenter on the merits of this film. I think it’s a little early to be shouting his name from the rooftops, even though it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next. Under the Shadow is a good, solid horror thriller, but it’s by no means outstanding, no matter what my favourite film critic Doctor Mark Kermode says. The Djinn spirit as a shaped fabric is stylish and at times creepy, the only thing is it has been done countless times before – and is another steal from East Asian ghost films which made such a mark in the late 1990s. I would encourage all young people to try some foreign subtitled movies, such as this. There are some classics. Start with Pan’s Labyrinth; every time I watch it I notice something more.

Special Features include: Two & Two – Babak Avari’s BAFTA Award nominated short film; Interview with the Director; Interview with Narges Rashidi; Interview with Producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill; Interview with Cinematographer Kit Fraser; and an Audio Commentary with Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham.


Ty Power

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