Welcome again to the best month of the year, in life but also for the Blog Collab. You got it, spooky horror movies all month and nobody can tell us off or question us. Brilliant!
We kick off Halloween Month with this sinister tale about Djinn, a shape-shifting demon (or demons) from Arabian/Muslin mythology. Hold on to your britches.
Under the Shadow (2016)
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
Former medical student Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is devastated when she’s denied the chance to resume her studies. Her involvement with a leftist group has cost her her place at university. In no uncertain terms she is told by the dean that she will never study at the school again and should therefore find another dream to pursue. We’re in 1980’s post-revolutionary Tehran and shit is most definitely going down.
Most of the neighbourhood are fleeing the city for their own protection and the families that have stayed are constantly having to retreat to their basements to elude actual falling bombs. Shideh, despite her husband’s advice, has not yet joined the mass exodus. Iraj (Bobby Naderi) accuses her of being stubborn and putting their child’s life at risk which she takes to mean he thinks she’s a shit mum. To say you can sense a tension between them would be an understatement.
When she relays her day at the university and the subsequent bad news about her education to him, he’s less than sympathetic, telling her that maybe it’s for the best.
There’s also an unspoken frisson between her and her daughter, Dorsa (the brilliant Avin Manshadi) and Iraj, before he is drafted by the military and is stationed much further away, accuses her of resenting her. Shideh is not in the best place given her mother has only just passed away and she’s feeling the pressure of pleasing her memory too – so it’s understandable, I guess that’s she’s not bringing her A game.
Mother and daughter have plenty of time to hang out together once Iraj is gone but they both begin to feel the strain of cabin fever. Dorsa comes down with a literal fever and starts talking about the Djinn, which frankly is the most freaky sounding of all the supernatural bad guys.
Dorsa swears she’s been told about its legend by a little boy on the block and one evening while they’re hiding in the basement again, he hands her a charm that will protect her. When Shideh broaches this with the boys’ new guardian, her neighbour, she is told that this is impossible, and that the boy has been mute since the death of both his parents in an explosion.
Both Dorsa and Shideh start to suffer from horrible nightmares and its a mystery why they don’t just get the fuck out of Dodge. Things go from bad to worse when a missile lands on their building. In the drama, Shideh is called upon to act as doctor but she is unable to save the poor man sitting in his front room when his unexpected guest smashes through the ceiling. He dies of a heart attack but later his daughter confides in Shideh that when she found him he looked as though he’d seen a ghost…
One by one the rest of the neighbours flee and Shideh confides in another one of her neighbours, lovely Mrs. Ebrahimi just before she fucks off too. Sadly, she doesn’t brush off talk of the Djinn as lightly as Shideh does, instead warning that Djinn’s like to possess people and steal their shit. Guess what starts happening next? You gots it.
Dorsa’s beloved doll Kimia goes missing and she refuses to leave until they find her. Shideh has FINALLY decided they should blow this popsicle stand but agrees to find the damned doll. Meanwhile, she gets a phone call from Iraj who berates her for being a useless mother. SAY WHAT. It seems this isn’t the real Iraj. More likely the naughty Djinn.
Eventually, Kimia turns up in Shideh’s secret junk drawer, looking like she’s been deliberately hidden from Dorsa (spoiler: the Djinn did it). She’s also been torn apart but Shideh promises to fix her. The mother/daughter combo begin their escape from the building but the Djinn is pissed and won’t let them go without some drama.
Will they get out or what? You know what to do.
Shiiiit. I like this film a lot. Its focus is purely on the two female leads and I love it for that – especially given the nature of the relationship. Shideh and Dorsa obviously love each other but there’s a tension between them that feels relateable, especially when you factor in the isolation they both must feel.
I read that this had been unfavorably compared to The Babadook (2014) and for a minute there I didn’t really get that. But on thinking about it a bit deeper, I guess that makes sense. Both central characters have recently lost someone close to them and are trying to carry on as normal while their children are also struggling.
It offers a less fluffy glimpse at parenthood which I always appreciate because that shit looks hard on the best of days, let alone when you’re warring with a shape shifter. While The Babadook to me is one of the most beautiful films of recent times, I think UTS can confidently hold its head up high next to it.
There are a couple of incredibly creepy moments and the climax is really stressful. Ultimately, there’s a test for Shideh and her daughter – will they rise to the challenge?
4/5. EEK. Creepy with a very human feelio, yo.