UNDER THE SHADOW (2016)
Set in 1988 Tehran and within the juncture of the Iran and Iraq war, Under the Shadow tells the story of Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), as they are hounded by a waging demon. After her husband is forced to leave them both to serve as a doctor on the frontline, Shideh’s strained relationship with Dorsa intensifies, as the limitations of the war and the frustrations of domesticity close in on her. After an unexploded missile lands at the top of the apartment block, it brings with it a terrorising spirit with its eyes set on little Dorsa.
The film itself does not fall neatly into the genre of horror. Although it does pack in a good dose of supernatural terror, the triumph of Under the Shadow is its strength of personal relationships, making it a significant family drama. As Shideh and Dorsa battle with the demon and each other, they are fuelled with the same will and determination, exasperatingly mirroring each other.
The reluctant housewife Shideh is caught in a regime that does not support her, as an active outspoken woman, She has the same desires, ambition, and intellect as her husband but she is a Muslim woman and is thwarted by a past which is marked by protest against her country in her student days. But this bravery is now the reason why she can no longer continue her studies in medicine. Shideh knowing the barriers, her daughter Dorsa could one day face, inadvertently becomes her adversary. Under the Shadow beautifully deconstructs a mother-daughter relationship as raw and gritty, bound with a love that is too pent up to express.
It is easy to see the demon that haunts the corridors in Under the Shadow as a metaphor, a representation of the social suffocation of the Iraq women, who want to be accounted for in an equal constitution. But this would take away its ability to show the nuances of the Iran Iraq conflict. Under the Shadow gives a voyeuristic view of the toll of war, not from the front line but the living rooms of everyday people; the tragedy is of the casualty of a life once lived. The close confinement of the apartment block, where the majority of the film is set, echos the claustrophobic and stifling atmosphere, as the war unfolds. As well as the clever use of lucid dream elements, paranoia is rife.
As with most good horrors, the nightmare is not derived from the monster itself, but the counterbalance of fear that breaks down and torments our characters. But Under the Shadow goes further by placing our already fraught mother and daughter relationship, in the confines of war in a male state-controlled society. Everywhere they face blocks - of a physical, mental, and social kind. But underneath is a story of a family searching to belong in each other’s hearts, against all of the physical and supernatural odds.
(Photography: Wigwam Films/ Doha Film Institute)
Under the Shadow, 2016 (Film), directed by Babak ANVARI. Jordan: Wigwam Films