Thursday, December 01, 2016

Under The Shadow (2016)

 Babak Anvari

WRITER: Babak Anvari


Narges Rashidi
Avin Manshadi
Bobby Naderi
Ray Haratian
Arash Marandi


Shideh and her young daughter Dorsa are living in an apartment block after a post-revolutionary and war-torn Tehran. As the threat of further attacks continues around them, they try to hold up in their apartment. On the advice of Shideh's husband that they should flee the apartment and go to live with his parents, Shideh decides to wait it out. Little do they both realise that there is something far darker that has taken up residence and is haunting their apartment.

Going into Under The Shadow, I wasn't sure what to expect from this flick. I'd heard such positive word of mouth about the movie, that I was sure that I was going to be left disappointed once I had finished watching the movie. I have this horrible habit of hyping up movies so much so that I end up on more than one occasion disliking the finished film. I was sure that Under The Shadow was going to head down that exact same path. I expected to be bored with this movie.

When I began watching Under The Shadow, I was immediately drawn to the story of this mother living with her daughter in an apartment block that has been struck by a bomb. The bomb while not detonating on it's landing sets into motion a whole list of extremely chilling events. I thought the undetonated bomb drew close similarities to Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone. Under The Shadow is a movie that melds together the real-life horrors of a country uneasy from years of war and death while adding a supernatural twist to the proceedings.

From the very first moments that Under The Shadow begins, I was unsettled. I was on the edge of my seat. I wasn't sure where this story was going or how this would eventually play out, but the plot has this overall sense of dread. Maybe it's the social context or the setting of when and where the film is set. It could be the fact that this mother and her young daughter could be killed by an airstrike at any given moment. The setting of the movie lends it an atmosphere that a lot of horror movies strive for and fail to achieve.

Under The Shadow is very slow-burn. This movie takes its time in building up to the supernatural side of the story. We slowly unravel the mystery of what is haunting the apartment. Once this movie starts delivering the chills and thrills, these moments are a masterclass in suspense. I haven't been this uneasy, unnerved, or genuinely scared more than I have in Under The Shadow in 2016. This movie is so far the scariest film of the year for me. It takes a lot to frighten me these days and Under The Shadow did this on more than one occasion.

I had moments where the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. I got chills during this film. I was actually frightened by the imagery of the Djinn. The movie has a few substantial jump scares that are incredibly effective. None of the moments felt cheap. Under The Shadow delivered on the quality suspense building and set pieces. I feel like all the scenes of tension building were handled to an expert degree. I cannot wait to see what Babak Anvari does with his next movie if this is his debut.

The acting in this film is academy award worthy. If horror movies ever got nominated for awards, I think Narges Rashidi would be in with a chance for best actress. I don't doubt we'll be seeing a lot more of her once American genre filmmakers get a glimpse of her performance in this movie. Avin Manshadi as Dorsa, the young daughter, is also fantastic for such a young actress. At times her character does become a little grating with some terrible hissy-fits and character decisions, but it's not enough to ruin that performance for me. She is fantastic.

Visually, I think Babak Anvari has crafted a gorgeous looking horror film. This movie is a sight to behold. For a movie that is set mostly within the one apartment block for a vast majority of the film, I think he used every single shot to perfection. The Djinn is insanely creepy as well. While the creature design is heavily CGI, it still didn't take me out of the film. I thought it was a genuinely scary-looking villain. All in all, one of the best shot horror movies of 2016.

Lastly, I love that the film injected the story with a lot of social contexts. The fact that Shideh and Dorsa have a VHS player and uses it to watch Jone Fonda's Workout tape but they have to keep it hidden from all of their visitors and neighbours in case they report her to the authorities. I also loved the scene where Shideh and Dorsa flee the house without her wearing her scarf and are arrested by a group of men. I thought that those scenes were almost as frightening as anytime the old man or Djinn are creeping around the house.



- A man has a heart attack and dies.
- A woman is dragged under the blanket by a demon.
- A child and mother are attacked countless times by a Djinn.

Under The Shadow is the closest thing to a masterpiece that I saw in 2016. My only gripes with this movie are the fact that at times, the performance by Avin Manshadi becomes a little grating but this is expected of a child who is playing frightened and disobeying authority. We also have some CGI that looks a bit shoddy at times. These moments are not enough to kill what is mostly a brilliant made supernatural horror film. The movie has award-worthy performances and is easily the most frightening movie of 2016. Highly recommended, a must watch.


  1. Easily one of my favorite films of 2016. Love your review. Great job.

  2. Still my vote for best horror movie of 2016.

    One of the best of the decade for me.