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Under The Shadow
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Within the chaos of the Iraq war, when a missile hits their apartment building but fails to explode, a mother learns from a superstitious neighbor that the cursed object has brought in malevolent spirits to terrorize her young daughter.
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Under The Shadow follows in the tradition of films like The Babadook, The VVitch, and even Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone in that it's supernatural elements compliment a taught interpersonal, family drama. Unlike films that rely totally on surprise, it might not make you jump out of your seat, but the images and story stay with you a lot longer because you actually care about the characters. They're not disposable victims whose torture is purely for our amusement al a Paranormal Activity, etc. The fear and sense of dread are achieved through the film's atmosphere, not through gratuitous violence or "jump scares" (although there are a few of those). The constant threat of aerial bombardment is scary in and of itself but it is also a surprisingly good metaphor for spectral assualt. Whenever those air raid sirens go off you feel a sense of existential dread; of both the material and spiritual variety.
That said, this film isn't doing anything groundbreaking. But what it does do it does very well and in a lot of horror films that's all I want. I don't need genius and earth-shaking innovation, I just need for it to be good.
Another terrific Persian language horror picture following 2014's mind-blowing vampire fable "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"
Like the latter film, this is an effective, creepy parable that marries modern and fairy tale elements to great effect.
Unlike the earlier film, this is more of a psychological thriller which presents its supernatural elements in a far more circumspect manner.
Set in the 80s during the horrific Iran-Iraq war, it's about a young couple and their little daughter whose lives begin falling apart from a confluence of events:
The war is ever-present with air raids (or missile launches) rocking Tehran on a regular basis.
A UXB that slams into the main characters' apt building will trigger a series of horrors
The war comes with renewed repression at home - it's a totalitarian state after all: For one thing, the wife, who was a med student, is banned from completing her education because she took part in a pro democracy demonstration years earlier. This is a nation where women are portrayed as weak creatures who need the protection of their paternalistic fundamentalist culture (itself a troubling idea). That, at least, is the official picture. But the film gives an accurate portrayal of the vicious, vile way male authority figures address women. The wife, who is the film's main character, is treated like a dog to be beaten down and restrained.
The wife's growing depression and anger over her treatment has caused incredible tension in the marriage. Despite his generally progressive attitude to women, the husband begins lashing out at her in a mix of frustration, guilt and perhaps due to an internalization of the sick official attitude to women that surrounds him.
When the husband ,who is a doctor, called to serve in the war for his second tour, the wife and little girl are left aloe in their apartment building.
Nice touches here about the neighbors whose nosiness (Iranians, as my family amply demonstrates, are really nosy when it comes to their neighbors) is heightened and intensified by a totalizing social system that demands everyone informs on his or her neighbor.
Feeling these pressures, the wife starts to unravel. The girl doesn't help much. The troubled atmosphere that surrounds her, the loneliness she feels as an only child, the generalized terror she's internalized -- all conspire to render her into a dysfunctional, hysterical mess.
Fascinated by a myth about the Djinn she hears from her only friend, a recently arrived orphaned kid "from the village" (poor, uneducated, unsophisticated) the girl starts seeing monsters everywhere.
There are really powerful elements from horror and family melodrama in "Under the Shadow," but the director deals with it all with relative restrained and with a disciplined assured hand.
Impressive, creepy, effective.
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Having said that, I've seen worst horror movies in my day.