The Iran - Iraq war spanned from 1980-1988 making it the longest continuous war in history. The war escalated from a shooting war using heavy military equipment to launching missiles at each others capital city. Running parallel to the war was the firm entrenchment of religious leadership in Iran that started with the 1979 Revolution. Opponents of the revolution were killed, tortured, jailed or sanctioned by the government.
It's in this arena towards the end of the war that we meet Shideh (Narges Rashidi) a modern thinking mother who it at the University looking to resume her medical studies. She is told no one and last final time by the Director due to her left wing political activities during the revolutionary period. Dejected she returns home to her daughter Dora (Avin Manshadi) who has a constant companion in her doll Kimia. Her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) a doctor himself does more to annoy her than console when he remarks that the University's decision may be for the best. The bombings intensify in and around the family complex as Iraj learns that this year's conscription will send him near the front lines. Refusing to leave Sideh stays in the home with her daughter often racing down to the basement for air raid warnings her only relief being exercising to her Jane Fonda Workout video tape.
The film takes its time to transition into a horror in writer director Babak Anvari's script. Only after Iraj heads to the front followed by a missile that strikes an upper apartment of the complex causing a severe crack in Shideh's roof does the tension and fear increase. Anvari uses the Middle eastern myth of the Djinn an evil spirit that travels on the wind as a device to increase the terror. Many of the residents believe that the Djinn will possess you by taking a cherished item. In this case the item is Dora's beloved doll.
The mother daughter leads are both excellent in their roles. Avin Manshadi strongest work as Dora occurs when she vehemently opposes her mother. Accusing her of hiding her doll and talking to an unseen lady who convinces the young girl that her mother cannot protect her. Narges Rashidi thrives in the break out role of Shideh. She is a strong female in a country that keeps half of its population one step back. She drives, wants her independence and is comfortable with Western ideas and values. Her performance intensifies as she starts out dismissing the Djinn, to gathering information on the subject to fighting to shield her daughter against the evil spirit as the narrative progresses.
Key elements including no big studio special effects, the right amount of jump scares and a small cast in a confined area command Anvari's film. The pacing works as the audience is brought along for the ride as Shideh slowly begins to recognize the threat to her daughter and herself are real. The main performances are excellent, the myth of the Djinn serves to make the premise plausible for this film I can highly recommend.
**** Out of 4.
Under the Shadow | Babak Anvari | Iran / Jordan/ Quatar / U.K. | 2016 | 84 Minutes.
Tags: Medical School, Iran- Iraq War, Bomb Shelter, Air Raid Warning, Djinn, Doctor, Jane Fonda Workout.