Netflix Pick of the Week: Under the Shadow

Lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve been watching a lot more horror movies than usual. I’ve come up with a few possible explanations as to why that might be:

  1. Netflix has gotten lots of new and interesting horror movies and keeps recommending them to me because of my viewing history
  2. After I numbed my brain on horror movies in October, I went quite a while without watching any. Now I’m playing catch-up / simply getting back to crossing horror films off of my “to watch” list
  3. The older I get, and the more horror movies I watch, I find I am less easily scarred by horror movies – there are films I’ve watched this past year that I never thought I would have been able to watch five / ten years ago
  4. With all the chaos and craziness in the world right now, the horror genre is one of the few that actually makes sense right now
  5. All of the above?

img_0624Under the Shadow Directed by Babak Anvari – Drama, Horror, Thriller: This Persian language film is primarily a drama about a mother trying to raise her daughter while living in war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. The supernatural horror is simply a by-product of the already tense situation. As Shideh struggles to keep her daughter, Dorsa, safe from the Djinn, these experiences mirror her struggles as a woman and as a mother.

Pros: This story features a strong, complex, female lead, and that’s not even the best part about this movie. Even without the supernatural elements, this was a great wartime story. The film still would have been fantastic even without the presence of the Djinn. That being said, the horror in this movie was phenomenal. It was spooky, it made me uncomfortable, and it scared me a couple of times. Anvari did an amazing job directing this film as some of the  scenes that didn’t even contain scares were filmed in such a way that the buildup of tension had me on the edge of my seat. The uncertainty of the ending was also a nice touch and it makes the story that much stronger.

Cons: The creepy little boy, Mehdi, was never fully explained. How did he know so much about the Djinn? Did he bring them with him? Was he simply a red herring? I suppose that, depending on how you want to interpret the story and it’s ending, his presence could easily have different explanations. Spoilers: if he is a red herring, then the Djinn were simply drawn to the apartment building because of the bombing. If, however, he brought the Djinn with him and passed them on to Dorsa and Shideh, then his presence serves as foreshadowing for what will happen to Shideh after the events of the film have ended. I like how his presence made me think, but sometimes he did feel a little bit like an afterthought in the film.

Final Thoughts: I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this film. And I almost didn’t watch it because I’m not typically a fan of war movies! This story painted a beautiful picture of motherhood during difficult times and it was creepy in the best possible way. What Shideh goes through is so heart-breaking, thought provoking, and difficult, even without having to deal with the Djinn. I would gladly watch this film again. Only next time, I’ll be better prepared for the scares.

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