Under the Shadow

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Under the Shadow
زیر سایه
Under the Shadow (poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBabak Anvari
Produced by
  • Emily Leo
  • Oliver Roskill
  • Lucan Toh
Written byBabak Anvari
Music byGavin Cullen
CinematographyKit Fraser
Edited byChristopher Barwell
Wigwam Films
Distributed by
Release date
  • 23 January 2016 (2016-01-23) (Sundance)
  • 30 September 2016 (2016-09-30) (United Kingdom)
Running time
84 minutes[1]
Box office$126,642[3][4]

Under the Shadow (Persian: زیر سایه‎‎, romanizedZeer-e sāye) is a 2016 Persian-language psychological horror film written and directed by Iranian-born Babak Anvari as his directorial debut. A mother and daughter are haunted by a mysterious evil in 1980s Tehran, during the War of the Cities. The film stars Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, and Arash Marandi.

Produced by British film company Wigwam Films, the film is an international co-production between Qatar, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival[5] and has been acquired by US streaming service Netflix.[6] It was selected as the British entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.[7]


Amidst the terrors of war-torn post-revolutionary Tehran in the 1980s, former medical student Shideh is barred from resuming her studies because of her involvement with student leftist groups. Upon returning home, she gets rid of most of her old medical textbooks, but keeps a book of medical physiology given to her by her deceased mother. As the war between Iran and Iraq intensifies, Shideh elects to stay in the city with her daughter Dorsa despite the protests of her husband Iraj, a doctor who is called into military service and assigned to an area of heavy fighting. Iraj wants Shideh to stay with his parents in a safer part of the country, but Shideh refuses. Dorsa is upset to see her father go, and Iraj promises her that her favorite doll, Kimia, will protect her.

A new boy moves in with the neighboring Ebrahimi family, who are his cousins; his parents were killed in an attack. During a shelling, he whispers something into Dorsa's ear and hands her a charm to ward off evil spirits. Dorsa tells Shideh that the boy told her about the legend of the Djinn, and that the charm would protect her, though Shideh throws it away. Shideh visits Mrs. Ebrahimi, who informs her that the boy has been mute ever since the death of his parents. Dorsa develops a fever and has a slew of nightmares, and Shideh is also haunted by bad dreams. Her PTSD grows worse but she is in denial and doesn't recognize being in a state of shock from the psychological stress and trauma of living in a warzone.

During another shelling, a missile strikes their building, and an upstairs neighbor dies of a heart attack. Kimia goes missing in the commotion, and Dorsa insists that someone took her. Her behavior also becomes more disturbed and erratic; she insists there is a strange presence in the house, and repeatedly tries to get into the upper floor, believing that Kimia is there. The daughter of the deceased neighbor visits Shideh and claims that her father was unaffected by the missile impact but she found him looking terrified, as if he had seen a ghost.

The neighbors gradually begin to leave to escape the fighting. Mrs. Ebrahimi warns Shideh that djinns may possess humans, and they will steal a beloved personal item of their victims. The Ebrahimis leave too, until Dorsa and Shideh are the only two inhabitants left in the building. Shideh's nightmares get worse, and her own items start to go missing. Her nightmares escalate to visions involving a floating chador that moves like a ghost. Dorsa admits to seeing the same apparitions, but claims that the ghostly woman in the chador wants to help her find Kimia. Shideh finally wants to leave to go to her husband's parents, but Dorsa refuses to leave until Kimia is found. Shideh receives a call seemingly from Iraj, but the caller begins to berate her for being a poor mother, as the djinn did. Shideh finds a mutilated Kimia, which upsets Dorsa. Shideh repairs Kimia with tape, but when they are about to leave, another air raid siren goes off.

Shideh promises Dorsa that they will escape, but while going down to the shelter, she hears Dorsa's screams. She panics, believing that the Dorsa she left with is another apparition, and returns home to find Dorsa. She sees what appears to be Dorsa under their bed, but when trying to rescue her, she discovers with horror that it is an apparition. Escaping to the shelter, she finds the real Dorsa. The two are attacked by the chador apparition, which separates the two before Shideh manages to find Dorsa. She urges Dorsa back up the stairs but is trapped when the floor begins to suck her down. Dorsa rescues Shideh and the two escape to the car, and Shideh drives them to Iraj's parents. However, it is revealed that Kimia's detached head was left behind and Shideh's medical textbook is still in the djinn's possession, implying they may still be harassed.


  • Narges Rashidi as Shideh
  • Avin Manshadi as Dorsa
  • Bobby Naderi as Iraj
  • Ray Haratian as Mr. Ebrahimi
  • Arash Marandi as Dr. Reza
  • Bijan Daneshmand as Director
  • Aram Ghasemy as Mrs Ebrahami
  • Saussan Farrokhnia as Mrs Fakur
  • Behi Djanati Atai as Pargol
  • Hamidreza Djavdan as Mr Fakur
  • Nabil Koni as Mr Bijari
  • Karam Rashayda as Mehdi
  • Zainab Zamamiri as Sogand
  • Khaled Zamameri as Ali
  • Adel Darageh as pot-bellied man
  • Jalal Izzat as glazier
  • Suhaila Armani as female prison guard
  • Amir Hossein Ranjbar as young soldier
  • Houshang Ranjbar as senior police officer

Also in the cast are Ehab Rousan and Rami Mehyar as revolutionary guards, Ahmad Mehyar and Abu Rashed as paramedics and Zeid Jad and Motasem Younis as fire-fighters.


The film's global premiere was in January 2016 at the Sundance Film Festival. The rights to the film were subsequently acquired by streaming service Netflix; Vertical Entertainment and XYZ Films will assist in VOD releases and a limited theatrical showing starting on 7 October in the United States.[8]

Critical reception[edit]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 99% based on 87 reviews, with an average rating of 8.06/10. The site's critics' consensus reads: "Under the Shadow deftly blends seemingly disparate genres to deliver an effective chiller with timely themes and thought-provoking social subtext."[9] Metacritic reports an aggregated score of 84/100 based on 20 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[10]

Eric Kohn, writing for Indiewire, praised the film for its spin on the narratives of the horror genre,[11] and David Rooney, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, praised Rashidi's performance and Anvari's directing.[12]

On 9 July 2016, the film received the H.R. Giger Narcisse prize for the Best Movie at the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival.[13]

In December 2016, film critic Mark Kermode named Under the Shadow the best film of 2016.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Under the Shadow (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 16 September 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Ide, Wendy (23 January 2016). "'Under The Shadow': Sundance Review". Screen Daily. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  3. ^ "'Under the Shadow' (2016) International Box Office Results". Boxofficemojo. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  4. ^ "Under the Shadow". The Numbers. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  5. ^ "Sundance Review: 'Under the Shadow' is the First Great Horror Movie of the Year". 23 January 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  6. ^ Setoodah, Ramin (21 January 2016). "Sundance: Netflix Acquires Iranian Horror Movie 'Under the Shadow' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  7. ^ McNary, Dave (21 September 2016). "Iranian Horror Movie 'Under the Shadow' Selected as U.K. Foreign-Language Oscar Entry". Variety. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  8. ^ "Vertical, XYZ In Global Pact For 'Under The Shadow'; Deal Covers Theatrical, VOD – Sundance". 23 January 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Under The Shadow (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Under the Shadow Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  11. ^ Kohn, Eric (23 January 2016). "Sundance Review: 'Under the Shadow' is the First Great Horror Movie of the Year". Indiewire. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  12. ^ Rooney, David (23 January 2016). "'Under the Shadow': Sundance Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Valence Media. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  13. ^ O'Keeffe, Christian (9 July 2016). "Neuchâtel 2016: Iranian Horror UNDER THE SHADOW Wins Grand Prize". Screen Anarchy. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  14. ^ Kermode, Mark (4 December 2016). "Mark Kermode: best films of 2016". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 December 2016.

External links[edit]