The film Under the Shadow was just nominated for two 2017 BAFTA Awards: Outstanding British Film of the Year and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer: Babak Anvari, Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh.The film was written and directed by Babak Anvari.
The film had limited release in 2016, it tells the story of a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
In the 80’s, during the war between the Islamic post-revolutionary Iran and Iraq, the former leftist medical student Shideh tries to return to the university but is barred by the Dean. The upset Shideh returns home and when her husband Dr. Iraj is assigned to work in a war zone, she refuses to move to his parent’s house with their daughter Dorsa. Shideh prefers to stay in her apartment with Dorsa, who loves her doll Kimia and has constant fever.
Dorsa is afraid of demoniac Djinns and when Shideh asks who told her about the legend, she tells that her friend that lives downstairs. When a missile strikes their building, the neighbors decide to leave Tehran, but Shideh stays in the apartment with Dorsa, who is increasingly disturbed. Soon Shideh finds that there is an evil entity in the apartment.
Official submission of the United Kingdom for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category of the 89th Academy Awards in 2017. The film was actually shot in Jordan and the visual effects were done by Bournemouth based VFX studio, Outpost.
Outpost were the sole VFX provider for this project providing 88 complex VFX shots across a wide variety of techniques including ghostly cloth simulation, full CGI character creation, digital doubles, set extensions and digital matte paintings.
Outpost noted that there was an excellent review in The Hollywood Reporter for the film which praised Babak’s choice to favour practical effects over CG. “At Outpost we take this as the ultimate praise for the quality of our 90 plus VFX shots!”
Throughout the film all the cloth work and all the ceiling cracks are fully CG replacements. Also, the replacement from the waist down of the lead actress in one shot. Numerous matte paintings, window replacements and set extensions were also added to bolster the production value and create the Director’s perfect vision for the film when the locations weren’t quite right.
CEO Duncan McWilliam said of the project: “The team at Outpost always do an amazing job but the fact that we were able to turn this around in eight weeks is a testament to their hard work, dedication and commitment”. Outpost has a 3000 sq ft studio housing 30 core artists within their 45 seat facility.
Prior to its debut at Sundance 2016 Netflix picked up streaming rights and Under The Shadow went on to be considered one of the 5 standout films of the festival and hailed by some as a modern classic.
The feature has been available on Netflix from Jan 7th
The film is rare in that it is set in Tehran, but a British film. We wondered how the film was received in Tehran itself and how accurately the team delivered on the experiences and performances? We reached out to members of the local film community in Iran. Tehran is the northern capital of Iran, and a city with around 9 million people, yet its film industry is almost invisible to many in the west. It is also an industry that is very small and yet working hard to develop its VFX and other skills to service the local community.
fxguide spoke to Director Mashhoud Mohsenian and VFX expert Amid Rajabi remotely.
(To be clear, neither were involved in the production of the British Under the Shadows. They are just working today in the Iran film business).
FXG: We asked about the horror genre in Iran’s cinema history.
MM: Stories, proverbs and horror folk stories have deep roots in the Folklore literature of Iran. Many such stories have been conveyed by word of mouth – showing that it can be a suitable source for attractive cinematic derivations for the audience. In the history of Iran’s cinema, a few films can be put in this genre but those few films have faced a certain amount of success in attracting Iranian audience’s attention because they typically related to the roots of folk stories. This includes “Talisma” directed by Dariush Farhang, that the theme of secret house and missing character has been added to it very well. Late in 60s, the film “On the 29th Night” directed by Hamid Rakhshaee embedded the memories of a generation of Iranians into terror and as critics believe, it has been the best horror film in the history of Iran’s cinema.
FXG: We asked about more recent success or lack of:
MM: Some reasons for failure of horror genre in Iran recently can be directed from producers’ fear of failure (at the box office) and the lack of creativity in scenario (copying Hollywood versions etc), plus there is a weakness in visual effects, and a general lack of attention given to potential of Iranian story- telling.
AR: In Iran, most people’s tastes have been driven to the ‘social’ genre of films but and because of also some technical weaknesses have been found in computerized visual effects, so horror films have n’t reached a mass production but it has changed a little in recent years. Lately, VFX studios in Iran have gained the capability for producing ‘unbelievable scenes’ with more power and contemporary speciality so it’s possible to change writer’s subjectivity to a suitable image.
Meanwhile, people’s tastes have been moderated by paying more attention to the horror films of Hollywood so that the opportunity for producing acceptable films in this genre has been provided. The attendance of young specialist and application of up to date softwares such as Houdini Maya, Nuke and etc … have made the possibility for making imagery but there is a lack of knowledge among directors. Visual effects and lack of budget make it hard, but with time this is changing.
FXG: Is Under the Shadow known in Iran?
AR: It was not widely shown here,
MM: Maybe the first and most important thing for an Iranian viewer is that the story referred to the time that Iran cities had been bombarded by Iraq. This background helped the director with creating stress and suspension. So much that it opened the ground for different interpretation from the themes of the story.
The presence of a fearful character, – the secret woman known as “Al” in folk Iranian stories, helped the narrative backdrop of film. It really helped the story communication better with Iranian viewer to make it more believable.
AR: A great aspect was restoring the location of Iran in the 60s, in terms of Iran’s society and many aspects of customs and behaviors.
FXG: What did audiences respond to?
Fluent performance of most actors and speaking in Persian are also important elements which have been effective in attracting Iranian audience’s attention.
Amid Rajabi studied visual effects such as NUKE in Iran via fxphd.com. Like many people in isolated parts of the world the internet has opened a world to VFX that never would have been possible before. He is currently making a series of short horror films in Iran.