Recalling the confined paranoia of Roman Polanski’s apartment trilogy, and, more recently, The Babadook’s exploration of grief and maternal anxiety, Under the Shadow is an effective chiller set in Tehran during the Iran–Iraq war of the 1980s. When her husband is drafted by the military, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is left alone to care for her daughter as bombs fall on Tehran and her neighbors flee the city. Still stinging from a medical school rejection and her mother’s recent death, Shideh’s stress is compounded by her daughter’s insistence that they are not alone in the apartment.
Within this framework, Under the Shadow offers a lot to chew on: the sinister side of Islamic folklore, the challenges facing post-Revolution Iran’s dormant secularism; the nervous tedium of the air raid shelter; and above all, the difficulty of navigating parenthood in troubled times. The film doesn’t dig into any one of these ideas so much as it dwells among them like so many neighbors, each giving equal weight to Shideh’s disintegrating composure. Despite a strong performance from Rashidi, Shideh’s torment isn’t entirely convincing, because the roots of her self-doubt – which contrasts sharply with her principled, no-nonsense demeanor – are never made clear. But Under the Shadow is an otherwise potent ghost story, familiar enough to be inviting and novel enough to be memorable.