How could life get any worse for a liberal-minded woman living in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war of the ’80s, as fundamentalist proscriptions and Iraqi missiles rain down on the population? Tehran-raised, London-based filmmaker Babak Anvari has some ideas on that subject, which he slowly but terrifyingly reveals in this horror film, the U.K.’s entry for this year’s foreign-language Academy Award.
Narges Rashidi plays Shideh, a homemaker, aerobics-tape enthusiast, and former medical student frustrated at being unable to complete her training because of previous political radicalism. When Shideh’s doctor husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), is drafted into the army, she becomes the lone guardian of their daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), in a Tehran apartment complex whose other inhabitants include a mysterious mute boy and maybe an evil spirit known as a djinn. Iraj urges Shideh by phone to flee the city because of the missile strikes, but she refuses, which turns out to be a mistake.
While Anvari’s film nods toward Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it is very much its own movie, thanks to the unusual milieu and the viewer’s uncertainty as to whether the terrific Rashidi is playing the protector or the persecutor — the Wendy or the Jack Torrance — of her character’s offspring. Under the Shadow is a skilled, chilling feature debut that might follow you around a while after seeing it. B+
Under the Shadow