One of the most exciting developments in independent film during the digital era has been the explosion of high-quality international horror films. Under the Shadow, the first feature by Iranian- born, London-based filmmaker Babak Anvari, stands as one of the most exciting exemplars of classic horror scares taken to the next level by a unique setting and brilliantly employed cultural specificity.
Set in late-‘80s Tehran during the Iran–Iraq War, Under the Shadow follows a mother and daughter whose already tense lives become a living nightmare when an unexploded missile hits their apartment building. As Shideh (Narges Rashidi) struggles to give her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) peace of mind during the hell of war, strange noises and creepy happenings lead them to believe the missile has unleashed malevolent spirits. With dialogue in Farsi but shot in Jordan—both shooting permits and commercial release in Iran were unlikely given the film’s subject matter—Anvari expertly establishes time and place as platforms for a very specific form of top-notch terror.
One of the most talked-about films at this year’s Sundance, Under the Shadow drew comparisons to recent world-horror buzz-films The Babadook and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night; I personally found it a far more frightening viewing experience. Interestingly, the film has also been likened to the work of Asghar Farhadi, and the film’s feminist themes and conscious engagement with social issues— not to mention its extremely high-quality production—make it a worthy companion to masterpieces like A Separation. Under the Shadow delivers the atmosphere, frights, and depth that one only finds in the very best of the horror genre. (Eric Allen Hatch)