Under the Shadow ★★★★½

Best horror films of 2016?

Ever since I was a kid I've been fascinated by haunted houses and ghosts. So it was only natural that when my love for the horror genre was sparked by films like Nightmare on Elm Street in the 80s, I always sought out films that had to do with spirits and whatnot.

So I guess you'll agree with me that we have been mistreating this particular subgenre for quite some time. These days films about ghosts and hauntings are prefabricated, jump scare riddled, drab distillations of what should make these stories so great. We should be intrigued and afraid, not scared, but uncomfortable.

When you read the synopsis for Under the Shadow, you'd probably think you'll be in for yet another familiar trip down trope lane.

And to a certain extent, you are. It follows the beats of the most familiar ghost stories. The difference is, however, that Under the Shadow is dedicated to its setting in that it takes great pains to give its audience a glimpse into a deeply troubled era of a country. In the wrong hands this could have turned into a cheap gimmick, but director Anvari takes his time to establish character and setting before using the latter to build the tension a story like this needs.

And the tension is at points superbly uncomfortable. Aided by two superb leading ladies, Anvari keeps his storytelling lean, which is very welcome indeed. I loved how the events of the outside world acted as a very credible reason for mother and daughter to slowly end up alone in their apartment building. The growing despair in Narges Rashidi's eyes as she sees everyone leave and feels her daughter slipping through her fingers, caused by something that she eventually has to concede to being supernatural, that despair carries this film. Horror is about being afraid for the people you're watching and Under the Shadow does that really well.

There is the odd jump scare but this film really excels in the visual fear mongering. There are scenes that are deliciously disturbing because of their haunting imagery. I hope Anvari gets more chances to explore this genre as he certainly manages to do a lot with a little.

Contemporary horror can learn a thing or two from Under the Shadow. And for fans of this particular sub genre it is required viewing.

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