Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the psychological horror feature UNDER THE SHADOW by writer/director Babak Anvari. To best sum up the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot description:
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980's, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
From the wonders of ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES to the terrors of ALI THE CAIRENE AND THE HAUNTED HOUSE IN BAGHDAD, the mythology of the Middle East has held a fond place in my heart ever since I was young. The fact that the central creature of the piece is the often misinterpreted Djinn had me a bit nervous as to what the final result would be, but I knew that a film playing off of this fantastic lore was something I had to see. The question now becomes, how did they do with the material?
From a mythological standpoint, I was duly impressed. This is not the Westernized, with granting Djinn; not by a longshot. The creature we are tackling here has much more in common with a demon seeking to toy with and possess those who are so unlucky as to cross its path.
This brings us to what I believe to be one of the strongest parts of this movie, the mother and daughter. We are given a lot of screen time with these two fleshing out their personalities and relationships with not only one another, but also the crazy world in which they live. Before anything even vaguely horror based rears its head, we can already see how much uncertainty these two are grappling with; which puts us very firmly in their corner.
When the Djinn begins to creep onto the scene, we are left wondering how much of it is real versus what could just be a stress related fantasy. This approach made the creature seem just as thematically relevant as the war raging just outside their door. The evil slowly invading the country, turning the most innocent to darkness is mirrored by the monster beginning to infect the daughter. This possession is highlighted by the fact that we never quite see the Djinn, but are left to imagine it amongst the shadows, bedsheets, or creaks the house makes.
The overall style of the piece also keep the tone as tense as a razor wire just by keeping things simple. Silence is used to great effect, the minimalist lighting captures a wartime authenticity, and the cinematography is solid, but never showy. Keeping the technical factors small and unobtrusive helps to emphasize the intimacy of the story being portrayed.
All in all, this is a small, but touching tale of a family handling stress both on a micro and macro level. The tense atmosphere created by the wartime setting is perfectly paired with the mythology of the region creating a chilling tale of an ever encroaching evil. The portrayal of the Djinn is sure to please fans of THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE CONJURING (2013) while those who want a character focused feature will also leave satisfied.
The Creeping Craig
UNDER THE SHADOWS is now available on DVD and VOD.