Now that I have finally adjusted to everyday life again after getting married and going on honeymoon, I find I now have the time to go to the cinema once again. Considering I have just written a blog on my incapability to watch jumpy horror films (which can be found here) you’d think I would play it safe on my first cinema trip in a while and go for something like Doctor Strange or The Girl on the Train…
…instead I have chosen Under The Shadow, a movie which film critic Mark Kermode described as a “full-on fright-fest”, and he wrote for horror magazine Fangoria and has a PhD in English with his thesis being on horror fiction!
Well, Halloween isn’t far away, so I decided to embrace the fear and take the plunge. I’m so glad I did.
Set in war-torn 1980s Tehran, a young mother, Shideh (Narges Rashidi), ignores her husband’s advice to flee to his in-laws and remain in their home with their daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). When he is conscripted, their tower block is struck by a missile that doesn’t detonate, and Dorsa believes that mischievous Djinn came with it, something further attested by a neighbour in the block. Shideh dismisses this as nonsense, but when Dorsa’s doll goes missing and when she too starts to experience supernatural goings-on, she starts to realise that they are both in danger…
What I love about this film is that I didn’t find it scary, and yet it made me feel on edge and very uncomfortable throughout its running time. This isn’t the type of film that will keep me awake at night or quicken my pace through the house when I’m switching the lights off before I go to bed. The film is a slow-burn and it takes a while for anything of note to happen, but all that while it builds up the suspense and you start to feel tense and fearful for the family on screen. It does rely on a few jump scares to keep you on your toes, but it does far more with its creepy atmosphere and its tendency to linger interminably and agonisingly on shots. You find your eyes are desperately scanning the screen for something paranormal as it forces you to actually want to see something scary in order to relieve yourself of the unbearable anticipation. No spoilers here, but there was one particular shot that was on screen for so long and it was only at the last moment before the edit that I realised that there was something otherworldly there all along. What a creative way to horrify an audience, and a lot more effective than a spook jumping out and shouting “Boo!” I can give you the same experience by jabbing my finger under your ribs! Doesn’t make me John Carpenter though, does it?
What also adds to this film’s success is the family’s struggle with the real world events around them. With the lead striving to continue her studies at medical school following her protests against the state and her husband being called up to the war, along with the impending bombing of their home all makes for engaging viewing. It makes you think that the film has been mis-sold as a horror but you couldn’t care less as you could happily watch this story unfold without the spooky shenanigans. It helps that it has a tight script and well-chosen actors that breathe life into their roles.
My only criticism is that I would have liked the paranormal activity to have hit full steam a little earlier in the film. The director had some great ideas for these malevolent Djinn and it felt like this was only touched upon. I’m not an expert in the horror genre at all and maybe this was all deliberate as I love a film that leaves you wanting more, but I felt like I only had the entrée and the starter and could have done with a juicy main course to follow with a tease of the dessert.
Blimey I’m hungry… where was I… well, I can’t remember so I’ll leave it there.
Go see Under The Shadow!