Thanks to movies like The Babadook, It Follows and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the art-house horror film is as viable a subgenre as ever these days. Adding to the movement is Under the Shadow, a new supernatural thriller that provides as much thought-provoking socio-political commentary as it does pants-pissing jump scares.
Under the Shadow is the first feature-length film from writer-director Babak Anvari, who previously released a handful of shorts, and while the jump to long-form can often show cracks in a filmmaker's storytelling, Anvari proves to be a master of the form here.
The film is set in Tehran, during the Iraq/Iran war of the mid '80s, where Shideh (the excellent Narges Rashidi) is a mother who has just been kicked out of medical school for her political beliefs. Her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) is rather unsupportive, but that doesn't matter, as he's soon drafted into the war, leaving Shideh to take care of their daughter Dorsa (the equally excellent Avin Manshadi).
Once Iraj is out of the picture, Shideh and Dorsa's apartment building is struck by missiles, which bring with them an evil presence. A young boy who is thought to be mute warns Dorsa that the building is being haunted with djinn — a group of evil genies from Islamic mythology — and, to cut to the chase, he's right.
What follows is an intense horror movie, as the djinn try to steal Dorsa away from her mother; it all serves as an allegory for anxiety, religious oppression, the balance of work and motherhood, and the fall out of war. That'll give chin-stroking political science majors a lot to discuss when the film's over, but those looking to stop thinking and bite their nails through a terrifying horror movie will have just as good a time.
Under the Shadow will stand as one of 2016's best scary movies.