Fairy Tale Skins 1 : Under (The Shadow) Tale

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Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: The Jinn from the “Arabian Nights” can be servants or self-servers, help or trouble, kind but more frequently cruel. Their volubility is a form of exaggerated humanity, which is why they’re not quite angels or demons in Arabic folklore. They’re too complex for either classification. Your best bet when dealing with a Jinni is to identify what they’re AFTER- but that is almost always unclear. Jinn are clever, and the clever often conceal their true intentions.

There is a Jinni with impenetrable intentions in Babak Anvari’s “Under the Shadow,” a brilliant ghost story set in the 1980s, during the Irani-Iraqi “War of the Cities” that saw missiles strike Tehran on a clockwork basis. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a wife and mother who has just been denied the chance to return to medical school on account of her past in political activism. Saddened, she mopes about her apartment while her doctor husband gets drafted.

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Shideh’s daughter, in the meantime, has started a friendship with a neighboring boy, who terrifies her, as children will, by informing her that Jinn haunt the building in which they all live. When Shideh learns about this, she warns the boy’s adoptive family to cut out this kind of ridiculous ghost conversation. She learns that not only is the boy mute, so the scary story didn’t start there, but also that her scientific skepticism isn’t welcome, because Jinns are definitely real. After all, they’re in the Quran. (Any Westerner tempted to scoff would do well to remember that jinns are actually pre-Islamic, that they were introduced by Christians into Arabic culture; and that no Holy Scripture gets by without its share of witches, giants, dragons, ghosts, and pig-possessing demons.)

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As Shideh sinks into depression, her relationship with her daughter becomes strained, and the possibility of a Jinni haunting their apartment all the more likely. But this ghost story is only the internationally marketable genre facade of “Under the Shadow.” Beneath it lies as an almost journalistic account of how it felt to be living in Tehran during the 1980s. Not just the big stuff (like the ever-present dread that a missile might burst through your roof), but also the small, telling details (like the way the relatively affluent Shideh, who loves to work out to Jane Fonda’s VHS tapes, has to hide the fact that she owns a VCR from potentially jealous neighbors.)

Father Hank Hank: I was a bit miffed that the dedicated, under-appreciated, self-sacrificing father (Bobby Naderl) is shuffled off to the sidelines early on. However, I enjoyed the sweet relationship between the precocious, imaginative, but very wise daughter, and her caring, slightly stern, but endlessly courageous mother. Tracey, kiddo, did those two remind you of anyone?

Tracey Tracey: Huh? I dunno. Ripley and Newt in “Aliens”? Anyway, “Under the Shadow” is an amazing movie that is scary both in crowd-creeping ways, and in its deeper examination of the global terror of being a woman in a repressive society. It’s not fair to pit movies against movies, but life isn’t fair (ask Iranian women) so I’ll say that “Under the Shadow” makes the similar “The Babadook” retroactively seem like a less-layered film. The most chilling moment in “Under the Shadow” has nothing to do with evil genies.

(SPOILER)

When Shideh finally escapes her haunted apartment with her daughter, she does so barefoot and- unforgivably- she forgets to put on her hijab, what with all the terror. She’s promptly arrested by passing police, and shamed for being a bad mother and a God-less, hijab-less whore. It’s a heart-breaking scene that, like the ending of George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” gains its ironic power from social specifics.

No evil creature out from the eeriest of fairy tales could ever do anything half as terrifying as the evil that men do, which lives on and on.

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Beatricia Beatricia: Tracey! Darling! There is no prouder moment in a mother’s life that when her daughter makes her first reference to Iron Maiden’s “The Evil That Men Do.”

Tracey Tracey: No? It was a reference to William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” “The evil that men do lives on and on, but the good they do gets buried with their bones.”

Trent Trent: BZZZZ! You sure messed that up, Traytard! It’s: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Act 3, Scene 2, duh!

Tracey Tracey: How do you even know that? You read at a 4th Grade level, whenever you can be bothered to read anything that isn’t the text boxes from “Pokemon Sun and Moon.”

Trent Trent: The genie in the corner just told me!

genie Genie: Hear me on this matter, fickle mortal, for thou hast broken the seal of secrecy to which thou were bonded, and betrayed thine promise to leave my presence unrevealed to your kith and kin. I hath promised you Earth, and Sky, and Sea, and the many golden bounties within, which my arms could gather for thee, and for thy glory I would have done all permitted by Allah, outside of whom there is no Majesty and no Might, hath thou only remained silent. But now I shall curse thee with the fleas of every camel, and the ticks of every cur.

Trent Trent: Right on, blue dude! Whatever you say! Anyway, “Under the Shadow” is an important humanitarian work of movie because it demonstrates that only the extreme terrorists are, like, heavy into that “blowing-themselves-up” stuff. Most terrorists from Terroristan are just normal people who wanna chill and not get killed in a war and not have ghosts or missiles inside their houses. They’re nice and easy to relate to, and have nightmares about monsters whose faces are made of teeth, just like I do every night! End da Hate!

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Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: This movie was an abomination when it was American and it was called “Insidious and Sinister Paranormal Conjuring 16.” I’m not gonna pretend to like it more just because they added subtitles and falafels.

Blurbarella Blurbarella: “I’m a Genie in a Bottle, Baby– Gotta Rub Me the Right Way, Honey.”

5 of 6 Cherries

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