“They’ll always know how to find you.”
I felt pretty ambivalent about Under the Shadow, a recent addition to the 1001 List that I don’t expect will remain there for very long. The movie has had great acclaim among those who have seen it, and it was the English submission for best foreign-language film at the Oscars, although it didn’t earn the nomination. I think this is a really smart film by someone who clearly knows how to make a movie, but I don’t think it was ever entertaining or original enough to get me invested, even though it seemed right up my alley.
Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a former medical student in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War in the 80s. Shut out by societal norms and verbally berated by her husband for her progressive views, she is left alone to care for her daughter Dorsa when her husband is drafted for medical work in the military. Her stressful life only worsens as a missile finds its way into her apartment building, and her neighbor suggests it may be carrying evil spirits.
My biggest problem with the film is the use of boring genre tropes, no matter how disguised they are. The film is slower than the typical supernatural horror movie, but it plays out the same way, only with more suspense. Many critics claim the film is two movies: first-part social drama and second-party horror. It makes sense given the slow-burn introduction to the supernatural elements, but the first-half also felt like a lot of exposition for what the movie ultimately wasn’t. Under the Shadow is a really unique historical geographical piece, but it still feels like Annabelle or the Poltergeist remake, a tiresome rehash of the same thrill sequences.
The movie is still better than those other movies, of course, for a number of reasons. Its style is distinct, and it has some really unique visual choices that make the movie memorable on an aesthetic level. Thematically, too, there’s a lot more to play around with. The anti-woman society feels like an additional, powerful antagonist in the film, and for a while I wondered if that was what the movie was about. By the end, though, I wasn’t convinced. Under the Shadow wraps up with a familiar cat-and-mouse showdown with a demon that feels all too familiar, and I don’t think any themes relating to Sharia law or social conservatism were followed through, even though they were promised. The film goes for subtlety, but for me, it missed the mark and fell into tedium.
I’d like to revisit Under the Shadow in the future because it feels like a good movie. It’s shot with precision, visual flair, and unquestionable talent, but I just couldn’t find myself enjoying it. I think if it went farther with its themes or had a more unique twist on the supernatural thriller, I could have fallen in love with the movie. I was hooked from the synopsis, but I gradually lost interest when I didn’t feel that the potential of the film was being realized. I want to see a horror movie where Sharia law is the demon, not just a plot point. If any movie wanted to take a stab at a similar concept, I’d be on board right away.
Films Left to Watch: 859