Review: Under the Shadow, war-torn terror

Babak Anvari’s Farsi-language Under the Shadow blends the terrifying setting of the Iran-Iraq War with that of the haunted house genre, creating a wholly unique backdrop that builds strong tension and powerful characters. But even though it thrives on the very real nightmares of war and uses that setting to heighten the impact of its supernatural twist, Under the Shadow is a largely by-the-numbers horror film that dilutes its own tension by repeating familiar tropes. In it, as a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.

Right away Anvari sets the tone of his film by giving the audience a glimpse of what life was like in Tehran during the 1980s—the sound of an explosion echoing through the city was an everyday norm, so much so that families regularly retreated to the basement of their homes. It’s that horrifying reality in which Under the Shadow is based that gives the film a sharp edge, especially as it transitions into the world of the supernatural. The way the film slowly leans into horror, taking the time to create a world and the characters within it, showed great confidence, and Anvari’s patient approach to building tension was refreshing.

But it was that very transition into horror, as an evil spirit begins to torment a mother and daughter, that the film steps away from what was so wonderfully established—while its setting is no doubt unique, the actual supernatural elements are weak and familiar. What starts out as a haunted house film unlike any other, ultimately stumbles over the same horror tropes we see time and time again—outside of a couple legitimately creepy scenes, there’s just not enough strong horror elements to make the film stand out; it just proves that horror is so much more than the environment it takes place in.

It’s not a bad movie by any stretch, it’s just a familiar one. I still enjoyed it well enough despite that, and I really like Anvari’s style—the way he frames his shots and holds onto a scene, squeezing every ounce of tension from it, was terrific. And how he uses the overwhelming fear of war to his advantage by leading the narrative straight into one of horror’s most classic tales—the haunted house—was a brilliant way to blend the natural with the supernatural.

3/5

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If you are ever attacked by a gorilla just sit back and relax while you enjoy the once in a life time feeling of your limbs being ripped off.

5 thoughts on “Review: Under the Shadow, war-torn terror

  1. Literally just finished watching this. Had to stop in here to remind myself of what you said about it. You said you saw this in the original, Farsi-language version right? I wonder how much better it was (granted you have the same issues that I do with it) with that in place rather than the super awkward experience of watching the English overdub. I wish I could say I liked this one but man. Totally underwhelming for me.

    1. Oh ouch, yeah I can imagine the overdub would be terrible (like they usually are). I saw the Farsi-language version, so I didn’t have that issue thankfully. Totally agree, it’s pretty underwhelming and was way too overhyped, imo.

      1. I think it definitely did some things well, it was really atmospheric and I just really liked the feeling of creepiness it created when the husband left for war. Going to that basement when it was just the two of them was super chilly. But yeah I can’t help but feel a lot of whatever there was supposed to be good about this was lost in the overdub

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