Thursday, March 17, 2016

New Directors New Films: Under the Shadow

Under the Shadow was screened in this year's New Directors New Films festival.

Like an Iranian take on The Babadook, writer-director Babak Anvari's Under the Shadow is an emotionally direct and realistic horror story centered around a socially isolated mother and child who are terrorized by eerie supernatural events. The paranormal happenings are very likely a combination of the mother's hallucinations and the child's way of making sense of the violence the mother perpetrates as her sanity ebbs and flows, but Anvari keeps things creepy in part by leaving open the possibility that there really may be something supernatural out there.

Living in Tehran under Ayatollah Khomeini's reign and during Iran's long war with Iraq, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) feels the world closing in on her, a suffocation that comes to feel almost tactile through the specificity with which Anvari details her day to day. The relatively new fundamentalist regime has just denied her readmission to medical school because she supported the liberal opposition. She has to swathe herself in a chador before going out, although she wears sleeveless shirts and keeps her heads uncovered at home. Even in her own apartment, she must hide the VCR that plays her beloved Jane Fonda workout tape when a repairman arrives, afraid of being arrested if he sees and reports the forbidden electronics.

That's enough to upset anyone's equilibrium, but there are hints that Shideh may be psychologically unstable as well, from her husband Iraj's (Bobby Naderi) comment that her being forbidden to go back to medical school was “probably for the best,” to their daughter Dorsa's (Avin Manshadi) fear at being left alone with her when Iraj is called back to war.

Read the rest in Slant Magazine

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