Sundance Review: Under the Shadow
The last two of years or so, Sundance has managed to get their hands on some pretty solid horror films. In 2014, they premiered The Babadook and in 2015 came The Witch. So does 2016 have a breakout horror film to make it a solid three years in a row? From all accounts I had heard, it seemed to be the case in the form of an Iranian film called Under the Shadow. As an avid lover of the genre, naturally I had to obtain tickets and see for myself how this film stacked up against its spiritual predecessors.
I'm delighted to report that Under the Shadow is indeed, as critics have called it "the first great horror film of the year." Set in the 1980's during the middle of the Iraq/Iran war, there is a real dread and uneasiness that invades the picture right from the start. The story is basic, and I won't get into it at length. It revolves all around a woman watching her daughter in their apartment during the war...when creepy stuff starts happening. First-time director Babak Anvari takes his time and opts for a slow burn horror story. As I sat in my seat, I began to feel a little frustrated and wanted the movie to pick up its pace (mostly because I attended such a late screening,) but when the first real scare occurred....I have to admit, it got me good. And I certainly wasn't alone in that either. I heard more than half the audience scream along with me, and breathe a sigh of relief as soon as they could. But little did we know, that was just the beginning and the tension wouldn't truly let up until the credits.
Under the Shadow is an impeccably made film no matter who made it, but it's almost mind-blowing when you discover that this was the director's first feature film. His direction and staging are so self-assured, and the performances he got out of his players somehow manages to be pitch perfect. I have to say, I really hope he continues to make films in this genre. Under the Shadow is a beyond effectively made horror film. Other than my impatience at the slow burn (which again, was more due to the hour than the filmmaking,) my only qualm is that I would have loved a stronger finale. [Vague spoilers highlight to read:] I wanted the film to pack a punch at the end, but the filmmakers took the more subtle route.[ /End Spoiler.] Really when it comes down to it, once the film gets going it's hard not to want more of the goods!