Under the Shadow

Under the Shadow takes place in Tehran in the 1980’s during the Iraq/Iran war. Our main character, Shideh, is a housewife with a husband and young daughter. Shideh lives two lives, public and private. She exercises to Jane Fonda workout videos in her apartment, but must hide the VCR when outsiders come because VCRs are illegal. When she goes outside she has to cover her head.

After her mother’s death, Shideh tries to resume her medical studies. Her husband Iraj thinks she’s doing it because her mom wanted her to be a doctor. It’s a moot point because Shideh’s political activities in the 1970’s mean that no medical school will accept her. She’s pissed off about it, especially when Iraj tells her that maybe it’s for the best. Soon afterwards, Iraj is drafted to fight in the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq is bombing Tehran. Iraj wants Shideh and their daughter Dorsa to leave the city and live with his mother, but she won’t leave.

The djinn makes its entrance with a flair. A missile hits Shideh’s apartment complex but doesn’t explode and that’s when the weird shit starts. Dorsa’s doll vanishes. Shideh has bad dreams, and then starts seeing strange things out of the corners of her eyes. Under the Shadows has a slow build-up. The djinn takes its time revealing itself, but what’s scarier is the world Shideh lives in, where you can be flogged for not wearing a headscarf in public.

Under the Shadows has a few good jump scares, including one that made me shriek out loud. This is definitely an art house horror film. Shideh is human, and she is under an incredible amount of pressure. That said, not all the tension between mother and daughter is because of the djinn. This is a movie where the personal horror and the monster merge.

Under the Shadows is available on Netflix Streaming and is definitely worth a watch.

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Ringu

Ringu.jpg

 Ringu is a hard film to watch, and I mean that literally. I saw The Ring, the American remake, a few months ago. But I couldn’t find Ringu streaming anywhere, ironic since this movie is about a piece of dead technology. I had to go through my library system to find it.

Ringu concerns a cursed videotape that kills you a week after watching it. The video contains a bunch of weird, almost Dadaist imagery, and ends with a shot of a well. Reiko, a reporter, gets her hands on a copy of the videotape and watches it. She knows the story of the curse when she does so. Spooked when she receives the obligatory phone call predicted by the urban legend afterwards, Reiko makes a copy of the videotape and shows it to her ex-husband.

This is something I don’t get about either version of the movie. If you found a cursed videotape that could kill people, why would you show it to anyone, especially if you started believing in the curse? The rest of Ringu is spent running around with Reiko and her ex trying to decipher the curse, which leads to an island, a girl with psychic powers and a well that isn’t empty.

Ringu isn’t scary. Looking back at my review of The Ring, I complained it wasn’t a scary movie. Ringu is even worse. There are almost no jump scares and we don’t see a lot of Sadako, the ghost girl. The climax is great, though. They wrote the subplot about psychic powers out of the remake, with good reason.

Reiko’s relationship with her ex-husband is strangely formal, and she doesn’t seem to feel bad about leaving her child home alone for hours at a time. I am not sure if the filmmakers are trying to make a moral statement, notorious in horror movies, but am guessing my confusion is due to me not understanding a different culture.

The best part of Ringu is the countdown to Reiko’s death. Her psychological journey from skepticism to total belief to existential dread is interesting to watch, but the movie’s plot isn’t dynamic enough to match her personal angst. Translation: not enough happens. I’d call Ringu a near miss. Dark Water, made by the same director, is a much better movie.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Dario Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage introduces us to Mr. Argento’s visually striking style and fascination with voyeurism. Stuck between two panes of glass like a trapped fly, Sam – an American writer in Italy – witnesses an attempted murder at an art gallery. Soon he’s pursued by the killer, as well as an Inspector Clouseau type cop, through a grimy-looking Italy.

Sam decides to play detective, enlisting the help of gal pal Julia (Suzy Kendall). I am not sure why anyone sane would do this, but people did all sorts of bizarre shit in the 70’s. Shrugging off the attempts on his life, Sam’s amateur investigation leads him to a ghoulish painting. His visit to the artist is one of the highlights of the movie. While Sam’s away, the black-glove-wearing serial killer decides to play, threatening Julia in a plot development anyone who’s ever watched a thriller can see coming. Speaking of which: a few of the plot developments are ridiculous, but who cares? This movie holds together very well.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is well-worth watching, if you can find it (I watched it through my Fandor subscription). Since this is a giallo, there is a whodunit? element and a fiendish plot twist at the end. Be warned that Mr. Argento’s Deep Red, a better movie, is almost a remake of this film.