THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"UNDER THE SHADOW"
Under the Shadow is a politically-charged horror film set during the Iran-Iraq war. Narges Rashidi plays Shideh, a wife and mother who, to her great depression, was blacklisted from medical college after being accused of subversion against the government. Her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) is drafted by the army and sent into battle, leaving her home alone with their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi).
Not long after Iraj leaves, the apartment is struck by a missile that miraculously fails to explode. Bizarre things begin occurring, though: one of their neighbors dies under very mysterious circumstances, and Dorsa starts exhibiting some strange behavior. Another neighbor suggests that the missile may have brought with it Djinn – evil spirits that are essentially to Middle Eastern culture what poltergeists are to ours. Shidah is initially skeptical of that idea, but gradually comes to believe there might be something to it.
Writer/director Babak Anvari clearly has big, ambitious intentions with Under the Shadow. Whereas many horror films are mindless attempts to jolt the audience with cheap shocks, this one strives to meld political concerns with more traditional horror elements. It uses the idea of evil spirits as a metaphor for the terror of war, especially as it pertains to citizens. Anvari's MVP is Rashidi, who gives a superb, layered performance as the woman whose fear of the war raging outside her door gradually yields to the paranormal events taking place in her apartment building. Young Avin Manshadi is also very good, effectively playing the little girl who gets wrapped up in the strange goings-on.
Those attributes aside, the film suffers from a bit of a split personality. It tries to be both a political allegory and a horror movie, never quite finding a way to meld the two together smoothly. Consequently, it jarringly moves back and forth from scene to scene. The tone lacks the kind of smooth-flowing consistency that would have made Under the Shadow truly scary. A little more emphasis on the idea that the missile brings supernatural forces with it would have solidified things. The movie's last ten minutes pull out all the stops horror-wise, but by then, it's too little too late.
There is plenty to appreciate about Under the Shadow from a technical perspective. It takes risks, is well-made, and avoids low-grade theatrics. That said, it doesn't quite work as a horror picture, as it fails to provide the continually mounting dread that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The political side tends to overshadow the chiller elements. Consequently, this is a film more easily admired than enjoyed.
( 1/2 out of four)
Under the Shadow is rated PG-13 for terror, scary images and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!