Under the Shadow is, despite its crisp length, a slow-burner. British-Iranian director Babak Anvari takes his time setting up the situation that will confront Shideh and her daughter Dorsa. We are supposed to be in horror territory, but Anvari is in no hurry to get there.
The wait is necessary, and worthwhile. The plot’s political context itself is the scariest thing about Under the Shadow (2016).
The Farsi-language movie is available on Netflix. Anvari’s directing credits include the crime thriller I Came By, which is also on Netflix.
Under the Shadow is set in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War, which dragged on between 1980 and 1988 and claimed countless lives. Coming soon after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the war cemented autocratic rule alongside creating a cult around hyper-nationalism and martyrdom, compelling numerous Iranians to flee a country they no longer recognised.
A seemingly unending conflict, severe restrictions on women, a widespread sense of being hemmed in from all sides – Shideh (Narges Rashidi) gets the full blast of Iran’s multi-layered turmoil. She is unable to resume the medical studies that were interrupted by her participation in political protests before the Revolution. “Every mistake has consequences,” an unbending government official cruelly tells her.
Frustrated by her forced domesticity and dismayed by…