Well… the Christmas Holiday has come and gone but I’ve still a wee bit of free time this week so I thought I might end our month long “dry spell” here at the ol’ Litterbox with a fresh new Review before 2016 disappears into the rear view mirror. This time out? How about an Iranian/Jordanian Ghost story? Yep… betcha’ you haven’t seen too darn many of those, have you o’ Gentle Visitors? 😉
Our synopsis goes like this: “After Shideh’s building is hit by a missile during the Iran-Iraq War, a superstitious neighbor suggests that the missile was cursed and might be carrying malevolent Middle-Eastern spirits. She becomes convinced a supernatural force within the building is attempting to possess her daughter Dorsa, and she has no choice but to confront these forces if she is to save her daughter and herself.”
Yep… it looks like those evil jinn are up to no good again. Sneakin’ about… corrupting souls… working their wicked schemes and generally wreaking havoc. Luckily a certain lil’ Catgirl is all up to speed on those critters thanks to all those Turkish horror goodies I’ve watched. So… I guess the real question is… are they scarier in Iran? Guess we’ll find out, won’t we?
So this one is due out on DVD next month, but having heard all about it earlier on this year I couldn’t wait for that. not when I’m finally getting comfy with the whole “streaming video on demand” thingee. Yep foreign films are getting even more easily available… with decent English subtitles no less… these days.
This one is set in 1980’s Tehran during the “War of the Cities” where our heroine Shideh (played by Narges Rashidi) is trying to make her life amid the misogynistic nightmare that is post-revolutionary Iran under constant threat of missile attack from Iraq. She’s a married woman with a husband Iraj (played by Bobby Naderi) and daughter Dorsa (played by Avin Manshadi), but before the Revolution she was a medical student training to become a doctor. Now that it’s over and her daughter is old enough, she’s ready to resume her studies and get her career back on track. Ummmm…. yeah… like that’s gonna happen. Naturally the new regime expects women to get with the new program and be good little domestics for their husbands. She’s given some bullshit story about a problem because of her pre-revolution involvement with student leftist groups but it’s pretty obvious that women’s rights have basically been reset to the stone age. She’s told to give up her dreams and go home… or else.
Grrrrrr!!! That got this wee lady’s hackles up. Her husband is no real help either. He’s already a doctor and he’s a lot more concerned about being called for military conscription and assigned to a frontline area of heavy fighting. He pays lip service to Shideh problems, but you get the feeling he’d rather she just shut up and stop making trouble. Or go wait out the missile attacks on Tehran by living with his mother and his family, despite knowing the friction between his religiously traditional family and independently minded wife.
So Shideh and little Dorsa stay at the apartment despite the danger, until eventually a missile strikes their building and kills the one of the neighbors’ upstairs, leaving an omnious crack in their living room ceiling. Now is when the creepy stuff starts….
You see… something arrived along with this missile. Something evil. It targets little Dorsa… stealing her doll and working to set her against her increasingly paranoid mother and trying to split them apart.
The wife of the building’s owner, Mrs Ebrahimi, becomes convinced it’s all the work of a Jinn, somehow brought from the sky to target Dorsa and ultimately steal her away forever. This middle part of our film is perhaps it’s best, as you begin to wonder just how real the supernatural threat might be. You get a real sense of Shideh’s isolation… how much she really isn’t a part of the “New” Iran, and how she feels she can depend upon no-one for help. Especially after one of the Jinn’s attacks drives her screaming from her home along with Dorsa in the middle of the night, only to get arrested by a night patrol of the thuggish Revolutionary Guard who threaten her for daring to be out after curfew without her headscarf. Yeah… brilliant machinegun-armed idiots who somehow figure the screaming woman running for her life at midnight needs nasty threats and a stern religious doctrine lesson rather than any sort of actual aid. Sure sounds like the sort of guys I’d want protecting me… not. Her husband? Absent Iraj is no help at all, calling him reveals he’s mostly concerned that Shideh’s independent attitude is more likely to create problems for him and his career rather than he is in supporting her in any meaningful way. His advice? Just suck it up and go stay with the mother-in-law who hates her and would probably be happy to turn her over to the “Morality Police” the first chance she got to steal away little Dorsa. Grrrrr, grrrr, grrrrr!!! With that sort of stuff going on, it’s no wonder poor Shideh feels lost and helpless. The questions are: Is the depression and stress of it all breaking her spirit? Is she slowly losing her mind? Or can it be that the menace is actually real?
Oh…. its real alright. The mysterious burqa shrouded figure continues to terrorize our heroine and with her fellow neighbors all leaving one by one to escape the missile threat, it’ll ultimately take everything Shideh has to save herself and Dorsa and somehow escape this nightmare alive once they are alone in the lonely apartment building. It uses all the usual ghostly tricks to menace them, moving objects, possessing Dorsa or even shapeshifting into her image to trick and harass Shideh. It’s a nasty piece of work alright.
All this turns out to be a pretty good little suspense film and works extremely well for the most part. The acting is good all round particularly Narges Rashidi who has to carry the bulk of the film as our frazzled heroine torn between wanting to be a good wife and mother and yet wanting her dreams for herself. “Under the Shadow” shows just how razor edged a line that must have been to walk for a woman in such a repressive time and place. It’s a bit slow to get going, using its first hour or so to set that mood, but once it does, the creepy stuff more than makes up for the wait.
Carolyn and I both liked it, even if the misogynistic atmosphere of its setting made me squirm a bit. That was intentional of course and it’s used to effect here to build suspense, increasing our heroine’s isolation and paranoia, which it most certainly does. Written and directed by Iranian-born Babak Anvari, it’s not exactly an Iranian film, being produced by a British film company Wigwam Films as an international co-production between Qatar, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. It is the first Persian language film this wee lady has ever seen though, and the little details seem authentic enough to let me feel comfortable calling it an Iranian film. (Even if I’m pretty certain the story as depicted wouldn’t be well received by the powers-that-be in present day Iran.)
I rate this one a firm 4 “Meows” out of 5. It’s a well done story, that while borrowing heavily from earlier genre efforts, manages to cloth them in what seems to be a very authentic Iranian take on the whole Ghost/ Haunting genre of horror films. So much so that I’ll definitely grab a copy of the DVD for my collection once it comes out on Region 1 this January. However, if you like a certain nutty Catgirl also just can’t wait, it’s available from most streaming services for a more than reasonable price. Give it a try! 🙂
Yep… naturally there’s a nifty Trailer to watch and here it goes! 🙂