The new release documents a woman's vulnerability present under an Iranian doctrine and depicts the alarmingly authentic, totalitarian brutality of Tehran. Shideh, a 'controversial female' exhibits her struggles as a Middle Eastern woman, whereby her disregard towards the rules comes back to bite her on the bum, or in this case, morph into a terrifying spirit form. It’s when an authoritative looking man declares that Shideh will no longer be able to study at University, as a result of her involvement in the Iranian Revolution, that her world changes.
Likable Iraj defies ideals of the quintessential Iranian husband. There are no signs of unequal gender dispositions prevalent in their marriage, and he certainly isn't riddled with delusions of an almighty patriarch. Yet his gender may have had some influence on his career as a successful doctor, unlike Shideh he has career commitments to adhere to. Inevitably, Iraj receives a phone call to abandon ship and is ordered by the Ministry of Health to relocate at a desperate time of need.
Instantly we connect with a vulnerable, disheartened Shideh during a paralysing time of civil war – made to feel useless and inadequate, she is isolated in her own home and left to singularly protect their child, Dorsa. If swallowing her zeal and ambitions isn't difficult enough, she then must choose to ignore her human instinct of fighting not only for herself, but for her mother's dreams.
Shideh’s heartache of wasting her talent and potential is hard to swallow – to stand up against society's expectations, and to implement her just rights as a human being would be nonsensical. By partaking in the Iranian student movement, illegally possessing a VHS player and choosing not to follow the Iranian dress code whilst indoors, Shideh finds solace in consciously disobeying the rules. However, Shideh must comply to Middle Eastern regulations, especially during a crippling Islamic revolt, where unity is critical and depended on to survive. All of this, sprinkled with elements of the guilt she burdens for 'selfishly' not wanting to look after her daughter, fuels an abundance of self-torment and emotion.
The combination of military attacks and the supernatural puts the viewer completely on edge - the demonic spirit camouflaged in a blowing rupush, emerging whilst missiles are exploding, effectively instills realistic fear and panic.
With the spirit as an ambivalent concept to us and our culture, it makes it extremely horrific for us to comprehend. In our terrified dispositions we like to scare ourselves further by then questioning Shideh's sanity – are the spritis real, or are they a psychological reaction, created from shock and distress? The notion of an incomprehensible force attacking an already anxious mind during a time of war, is complex, intense and dark to consider.
Under the Shadow is one big feminist shudder and thus it is refreshing and hugely innovative. Genuinely terrifying too, Arivan's picture is faultless throughout and even refrains from a predictable conclusion, a remarkable feat considering the consistent tensity throughout. For viewers who like The Witch by Robert Eggers, Under the Shadow similarly shines light on an enigmatic, cultural tradition of which effectively exerts elements of realism and terror throughout. Shideh's tenacious female spirit keeps her fighting until the end, displaying her as a brave, independent woman who doesn't need no ghost.