Under the Shadow trailer

Babak Anvari‘s Under the Shadow premiered to rave reviews at Sundance this year (including one from yours truly) and has spent the past several months collecting still more praise on the festival circuit, hitting SXSW, Fantasia, and more. Now it’s finally headed to theaters, just in time to get yourself good and terrified for Halloween.

Set in the 1980s during the height of the Iran-Iraq war, Under the Shadow follows a mother and daughter left to fend for themselves in Tehran after the father is conscripted into military service. Everyday life is nerve-wracking as it is, what with air raid sirens going off at random, political turmoil upending the social order, and religious zealots eager to find and punish anyone who steps out of line. But things go from bad to worse when the mother starts to suspect a djinn is haunting the family.

Watch the Under the Shadow trailer below. 

The trailer doesn’t quite capture the breathless tenseness of Under the Shadow, but then again I don’t know how it possibly could. What makes Under the Shadow so intense is how slowly and methodically it builds the horror. When I caught the film at Sundance, I didn’t even notice how on-edge I was until I realized I was practically ripping holes into my sweater sleeves.

It’s a brilliant way to capture the horrific stress of life in a war zone, where a missile could drop in through the sky at any second. The 1980s Tehran setting is not incidental. The haunting is a supernatural manifestation of the tension and trauma that bleeds into every single second. Under the Shadow has drawn frequent comparisons to The Babadook, in part simply because Under the Shadow is another foreign horror film that came out of seemingly nowhere to dazzle critics and genre fans — but also because they balance horror elements and real-life drama in similar ways.

Under the Shadow arrives in theaters and on VOD October 7.

Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her family live amid the chaos of the Iran-Iraq war, a period known as The War of the Cities. Accused of subversion by the post-Revolution government and blacklisted from medical college, she falls into a state of malaise. With Tehran under the constant threat of aerial bombardment, her husband (Bobby Naderi) is drafted and sent to the frontlines by the army, leaving Shideh all alone to protect their young daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). Soon after he leaves, a missile hits their apartment building and while failing to explode, a neighbor dies under mysterious circumstances and Dorsa’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic.

Shideh finds herself slowly drawn into the ensuing turmoil, struggling to cling onto what is real and what is not. Searching for answers, she learns from a superstitious neighbor that the cursed missile might have brought with it Djinn – malevolent Middle-Eastern spirits that travel on the wind. Convinced that a supernatural force within the building is attempting to possess Dorsa, Shideh has no choice but to confront these forces if she is to save her daughter and herself.

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