Babak Anvari’s “Under the Shadow” would make for ideal viewing in the setting of a college seminar on horror films. It’s the kind of flick where personal and political anxieties are present, well-established and easily reflected in the monster that terrorizes the film. No academic text performing a close read to perhaps stretch the significance of certain elements is necessary to appreciate the deep connection between the real and the fantastic.
In the film, Narges Rashidi’s Shideh is haunted by the specter of her own feminism in 1988 Tehran. The activism of her student years in the wake of the Iranian Cultural Revolution becomes a liability as a dean prevents her from returning to finish her medical degree after taking a leave to mother her child. As if this setback were not enough, she must also contend with a brewing war between Iran and Iraq as well as a ghost in the household. This spirit threatens to uproot her position as the providing matriarch, exacerbates her feelings of guilt for her attempts to abandon traditional caregiving role.
In its brief 83 minutes, Anvari gives too much time goes to laying the groundwork and setting the stage – not enough to actually consummating the air for horror. Without foreshadowing or a more equitable distribution of scares, the last 20 minutes of “Under the Shadow” feel like an odd addendum rather than the fulfillment of the film’s promise. In this sense, the film’s ripe-for-analysis setup becomes a liability as well as a strength. B /