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Under The Shadow [2016] – JIO MAMI Mumbai Film Festival Review

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“People can convince themselves anything’s real if they want to.”

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The fear and anxiety in Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow not only lurk around closed doors, broken windows, shady basements, restricted roads, terrorized neighborhood but travel almost everywhere. The universality of the fear, both supernatural and real, is terrifying to an extent where the human mind starts questioning everything. And what makes Under The Shadow a brilliant horror film is when it proves your guesses to be wrong in every other instance. It’s a smart, skillful and eerie thriller that haunts you out of your mind. 

Set in 1988, the film can thematically be called another tragedy of war. While the Iraq-Iran war is at it’s prime, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) desperately wants to get back to her medical studies. She considers doing so to pay homages to her mother who she has lost months ago. When she is not allowed to do so, she is distressed and heartbroken. Her husband is also to be stationed somewhere within the war set which only ups the chaos in her head. Her solace lies in doing her workout to a Jane Fonda VCR-tape and looking at her daughter being her cute self. But as they say, more chaos is always on the way. So, writer-director Babak Anvari very cleverly plays with haunted house cliches, throwing in some sharp social commentary where a woman is always under the scanner. Be it the way she dresses, dreams or even cares about her child. 

Under The Shadow doesn’t bring anything new to the plate. It’s also very derivative in how it uses it’s horrific scale. But the way Babak Anvari presents his film is smart enough for you to give it a visit. He focuses right on the emotional context which is the core of the film. More than the supernatural scares, his film bases itself around a character who has succumbed to the dangers that can make her life a living hell. Babak’s film makes even the most done to death jump-scares feel scary.  

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Under the Shadow creates a fantastic sense of dread that ranges from being the subtly-creepy-kind to lose-all-your-senses kind. It settles you into a quagmire of dread where you see a mother and a daughter doubting each other, losing sensibility and worshiping the terror that shouldn’t be allowed to seep through. The use of the roaring wind as the background score is one of the best things about this slow-burning, spine-chilling horror film. The two main players in this game of seeking and hiding, and seeking again, raises some important issues. Moreover, a mother’s dilemma is questioned in a way where the answers never seem to satisfy anyone. Which make it all the more creepy. 

Under the Shadow is a smart,intriguing and scary horror film that uses its ambiguity to leave a lasting impression. 

★★★★

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