“Under the Shadow” – 2016 Fantasia Film Review


In her youth, Shideh – a medical student – joined with Leftists and academics in their struggle against the Iranian Cultural Revolution. Later, as a wife and mother, she wishes to return to her studies, but those in charge of the post-purge university disqualify her due to her past activities. Similarly, at home, even her husband looks upon her with suspicion and concern, going so far as to question her parenting skills and/or instincts, for wanting a career beyond that of homemaker.

Worse, the war with Iraq rages around her home, and after her husband is called away to perform his annual military service during the ever-intensifying conflict, a missile drops directly on their apartment complex. Though unexploded, it causes extensive damage, leading each tenant, one after another, to leave. Yet, when Shideh flees with her daughter in a panic to the street, she is arrested and threatened with lashes for going out with her head uncovered.

Not surprising given these circumstances, both Shideh and her daughter have been having horrible nightmares. They have also been seeing frightening – seemingly supernatural – visions. Wanting to take her daughter away to safety, the frightened younger girl refuses to budge, until a beloved doll is found that she believes has been taken away by mysterious beings who seem to come and go via a crack in their ceiling. Shideh initially dismisses this as nonsense, but she too eventually comes to fear that these beings exist…and that they are using the doll as a wedge to lure her daughter away from her and into their dark world.

Threats are definitely all around. From war. From society. From family. And from within. But might Shideh be simply filled with paranoia, seeing monsters where they are not? Has the supernatural actually been aroused? Or are there very real threats hiding in every crack and under every veil? While “Under the Shadow” may work better as political allegory than as horror, it is not without its effective supernatural scares.

“Under the Shadow” screened at the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival on Thursday, July 28.