Set in conflict of the Iran-Iraq war, the young and educated Shideh living in war-frightened Tehran becomes forced to succumb to patriarchal dogma after participating in a revolution against Iran’s standing principals. Her husband’s conscription sends his medical experience to the battle front while she settles into her role as a stay at-home mother to their young daughter and despite pleas from her husband, the stubborn Shideh will not vacate her apartment building home even when the threat of an Iraqi attack is imminent. When a dud ballistic missile crashes into the apartment about them, nearly breaking through their ceiling, the fear of a sinister presence circulates amongst the tenants that drives them one-by-one from the building with the prospect of an Iraqi attack to further motivate as a logical decider. An unsuperstitious Shideh remains until her daughter’s imagery whims and unwavering fever begin to form a more terrorizing atmosphere that even has her questioning the shadowy company of evil.
Not many horror films scare nowadays. “Under the Shadow” is not one of those films. The debut feature film of writer-director Babak Anvari posses a rare commodity of grueling fear set inside an already tense backdrop of the 1980’s Iran-Iraqi war. Anvari, the Tehran born Iranian nationality who was engulfed religiously in the culture, borrowed and rendered his from his family’s stories of supernatural pre-Islamic demons whisking through the wind toward those swimming in sorrow and fear; those demons were also labeled djinns. As a child born in the 80’s, Anvari had to rely and family to obtain a sense of the anxious air suffocating those taut by potential missle strikes as well as political and social punitive measures going against the grain. The UK based independent production company, Wigwam Films, financed the BAFTA winner for an Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer as well as receiving other nomination nods in other categories, serving as one of young production company’s shining stars early in the tenure.
Wrought by the explosive squabbles of two sovereign nations and incepted with archaic folklore, Shideh’s bound and torn between reality and the prospect of superstition, a role dutifully played by another Iranian born, Narges Rashidi, whose family moved to Berlin and she studied acting, scoring a minor role in the motion picture adaptation of the science fiction television series, “Aeon Flux,” and in the 2009 comedy-horror “Must Love Death.” Rashidi courts Sheideh approvingly with sincere strife over how women serving beneath men in 1980’s Iran as well as struggling to overcome that internal conflict as the mirror image of herself, meaning her daughter, when a phantom prowler is afoot. Portraying Shideah’s daughter, Dorsa, and the frequent link between the Djinn’s world and her own is Avin Manshadi in her debut performance. Manshadi’s round cheeks and doughy eyes set upon a physique stilling lingering some ounces of baby fat has little range, but most creepy kids and in creepy kid horror films rarely do. Rashidi and Manshadi fend well for themselves as the sole two characters cornered by war and Shideh’s personal vendetta against her country, her husband, and even her daughter to prove she isn’t useless as the motif lets on. “Under the Shadow” rounds out with Bobby Naderi (“Bright”), Aram Ghasemy, Soussan Farroknia, Behi Djanati Atai, and Ray Haratian (“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”).
“Under the Shadow” finds itself in a subgenre nearly all it’s own as the variety of djinn-horror anemically pops up every so often as an unpopular and uncoiled viper, unlike the antagonist powerhouses of zombies and ghosts that’ve reigned supreme over the last two decades, and though Anvari’s film shares little with Robert Kurtzman’s demonic djinn of 1997’s “Wishmaster,” “Under the Shadow” has more in common with the late Tobe Hooper’s last film, entitled simply Djinn, before his death. Both are built on the substructure of an Arabic/Muslin mythology, set on an apartment building locale, and exhibit the malevolency side of the djinn, but Babak Anvari accomplishes a great feat on his very first attempt – a stiffly frightening air of a phenomenally harrowing horror story. Anvari patiently stacks blocks of tension, one on top of another, without a hint of quivering throughout the acts and what’s more astonishing is that all the acts deliver different notes prosed to detail that secures a simmering, shivering plot. To praise Anvari more, the young filmmaker leaves nothing to chance by closing with an open ending for the mind to assemble information and interpret the events; a classic directorial tool used by some of the greats.
Shuttering in the dark has never been so delectable with “Under the Shadow” inside a packed, limited edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. The LE runs with only 2000 copies sheathed inside a rigid slipcover with covert art by science fiction artist, Christopher Shy. Global horror aficionados will rejoice to learn that the UK BD disc is region free and presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, that’ll be available February 10th. Unfortunately, Second Sight Films provided a DVD-R Blu-ray screener so I’m unable to speak upon the video and audio aside from what’s already been stated. I will say the subtitles were accurate and timely paced. There were special features on the disc, including segmented interviews with director Babak Anvari, lead actress Narges Rashidi, producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill, cinematographer Kit Fraser along with an audio commentary Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham and Anvari’s short film “Two and Two.” Press release also mentioned the release includes a soft cover book with new essays from Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept illustrations and a poster featuring new artwork. “Under the Shadow” must be watched in the dark, alone, and with the volume up, maximizing the crawling chill down the spine and raising all the micro hairs on every square inch of skin.
Wolfenstein has come to life! What seemingly looks like a video game turns into a motion picture unlike any other. Other filmmakers have only half-assed an attempt to take the Nazi industrialization and combine it into cybernetic top secret warfare. A reconnaissance company of Soviet solders receive an S.O.S. transmission from an abandoned mining facility in the middle of nowhere behind enemy lines. The squad finds themselves in the middle of hell where soldiers are took apart and sewn together with machine parts creating a killer, monstrous army. These abominations are the work of the grandson of Viktor Frankenstein. What’s worse is that the soldiers are a part of a secret mission that will put their lives in more danger than the hell they’ve stepped into with Herr Doctor Frankenstein!
I was once in e-mail contact with the film’s director Richard Raaphorst many years back when he was trying to fund an on screen production for Worst Case Scenario. A project I couldn’t wait until the dream came true on the big screen. I waited and waited and waited. Only two promo reels were released and then the project just drifted off into the dead project pool and drowned out of existence. Raaphorst was inspired again, most likely, by his failed project to create Frankenstein’s Army and even using some of the monster nazis he was once going to input into Worst Case Scenario. I’m stoked that Raaphorst was able to see his creation in another, more profitable direction.
Speaking of nazi monsters, the creations where spectacular especially the creature “Mosquito Man.” Mosquito Man has blades on all fours and a drill for a mouth – pretty fucking frightening. There are also creatures with razor sharp blade fingers, cast iron maiden-chopping faces, slice and dicing propeller heads, and whatever your demented imagination can conjure. Frankenstein’s Army is an ultimate take on the Frankenstein legacy and spins it into the 20th century during World War II the most crucial and humbling time in the world’s history.
Raaphorst chose to film Frankenstein’s Army in first person using the story of a soviet solder recording a documentary of the team’s reconnaissance mission and to show back home in mother Russia, to the socialist people, that their solders were happy and safe and brave in the face of the enemy. I watch a lot of movies and I stand by my personal decision that the first person use has been overused, abused, and old as a Roman shoe. In saying that, the first person works here for Raaphorst because we’re only given glimpses of the creatures leaving more to the imagination and probably so the audience can’t really see how bad the costumed nazi getups may have turned out.
Usually in screening the portrayal of any historical war, I can usually tell if a war’s historical accuracy is off or how I feel on how believable these characters can be in period piece. The Soviets soldiers felt like Soviet soldiers. The war felt like war. Saving Private Ryan is a good example of what I’m trying to convey where we, the audience, can empathize and experience the gruesome war with Tom Hanks and his band of brothers. That same sensation didn’t strike me when viewing Nicholas Cage’s Windtalkers which seemed to bastardized by Hollywood. Raaphorst had me in the dark, dank underground tunnels of these spooked Soviet lads and had me feel the fear in the face of patchwork humanoid creatures.
I can’t recommend Frankenstein’s Army enough. The unique concept and the precision of execution should be a great draw for this film. More likely, Raaphorst’s film won’t win any major awards. Dark Sky’s picture presentation is clear. The audio suffers tremendously as much of the background noise drowns out the fake Russian accents. The extras are a little thing with a 31-minute “making of”, the trailer, a “creature spot” which displays the picture in a slide-show like feature. Raaphorst steampunk horror-thriller will keep you entertained and see what kind of man-machine construction will lurk around the corner, but the movie does feel like a video game with creatures hacking away at the camera while others stalk in the dark.
If you want to see Raaphorst Worst Case Scenario promo reels and see the similarities – see below.
Promo Trailer 1
Promo Trailer 2
Like Paul Verhoeven’s intergalactic warfare movie Starship Troopers where mankind battles an arachnid army known as “Bugs?” Did you know that Starship Troopers is based off a novel of the same title and was published in the late 1950s? Well if you did not know, now you do! Written by a former naval lieutenant Robert Heinlein Starship Troopers bares little action similarities to the novel’s more recent movie counterpart.
Juan Rico decides to join the service against his parents’ wishes and embarks from a private in boot camp to non-commissioned office to finally commissioned officer. Rico’s backdrop is war; an intergalactic war with a nasty enemy known as the “Bugs,” an arachnid species that can calculate and that can strategize with the help of a brain caste pulling all the strings.
If you’ve seen the movie, the plot pretty much describes the movie, right? Most of the Heinlein’s novel follow’s Juan “Johnnie” Rico’s career through the trials and tribulations of Service, from boot camp to being a lieutenant, in becoming a citizen, but the action and bloody mess that was experiences on the big screen was not translated from the book as most of the Mobile Infantries whom were killed in action were described as “buying the farm.” You can’t blame Heinlein as this book was written in 1959 mentally constructed as a totally different mind set than from our generation. The words on page are seriously outdated and can be technical for the most of the novel due to Heinlein’s military background.
The novel touches more upon the power suits which make an appearance in Starship Troopers: Marauder (“Marauder” is a name of one of the many power suits). These suits give Rico and the other M.I.s a superhuman ability and give them an even playing ground with the Bugs. I rather prefer no power suits as like in Verhoeven’s film that make the bugs seem like an unstoppable force. The novel does delve a bit more into the Bug society and hierarchy as well as how the Bugs reproduce endlessly. Much of James Cameron Aliens was inspired of Heinlein’s novel in the aspects of “Bugs” and their being a Queen to produce the “warrior Bugs.”
Heinlein touches mainly on civic duty and the social norms of a military lifestyle through the confines of war. We live through Juan Rico much like we live through Johnny Rico in the movie, but don’t expect to read much about Johnny Rico’s companions. Ace, Carl, Carmen, Dizzy Flores, Sargent Zim are a few characters that you might remember from the film that are in the book, but Ace, Carl, Carmen and Dizzy are brief mentions that probably span no more than a page and half out of 260 plus pages. Zim is all through bootcamp and near the end of the novel. Instead, Juan Rico encounter various people and ranks that stem from privates to cadets to sergeants to generals.
Starship Troopers can be an interesting read for anybody with a military frame of mind or a curiosity for it. But don’t expect the chaos of battle scenes or the gore of the arachnid M.I. slaughter. Robert Heinlein’s novel will not be everyone, but a good read none-the-less.