Under the Shadow (2016)
The great renaissance in horror comes from directors who grew up watching hacks and frauds who sold shlock to teenagers who paid money to make out with their significant others because their sell-out hippy parents wouldn’t let them do it at home. It’s beautiful in a way that the antagonists in modern horror films are monsters created by the same baby boomers that spawned the monsters who inspired these directors.
Allow me to indulge myself a little and to put on the ole speculation cap while watching “Under the Shadow,” the feature length debut of director Babak Anvari. This film resembles “The Babadook” in that it features a parent, a child, a monster and a carefully constructed palette. The themes differ a bit (“Babadook” sees the mother as a villain while “Shadow” still sees mother as protector) but both fit under the same modern foreign horror renaissance genre.
Set in 1980s Tehran, “Shadows” horror is much the same of anyone who realizes they can’t protect those they love. It’s a fitting story in our times and frankly will strike too close to home for many who watch it.
What makes it so terrifying isn’t just its timely themes. Anvari knows horror. I haven’t see any of his short films (though I can assure you they’ve been added to my list) but goodness does the man get the genres. His Djinn is rarely shown, and frankly never needs to be, because he sets the tension so damn well in every scene he wants to scare you in. Shideh (played masterfully by Narges Rashidi) does well with the material but it’s the editing and framing that brings the scares.
“Shadow” reminds me of my favorite horror film “House of the Devil” in all the best ways. It slowly burns by building its two main characters and then slowly isolating them. Before you know it you are all alone with Shideh and her daughter, Dorsa. Let the scares begin. The anxiety is absolutely palpable throughout the film and on a shoestring budget shoes the talent Anvari possesses. Many great horror films have been made for next to nothing (frankly, so have many terrible horror films) but what I loved about “Shadow” is that no shot was taken for granted. Anvari used every scene purposefully.
As someone who has grown up through both the age of the reboot and this new horror renaissance I fully appreciate how lucky I am to have access to so many great films in this much maligned genre. There is plenty of bad to go around, and I watch a lot of it, which only makes films like “Under the Shadow” all the more worth celebrating. This is an absolute gem and more than worth your time: it’s worth evangelizing. Hit your local street corner.
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