Under The Shadow: A review of a horror film with a message

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Under the Shadow is a horror movie breaking the typical clichés to transmit an important message – one of understanding.

Babak Anvari’s ‘horror story with a message’ has British students discussing the consequences of the cultural aspects of Iran between 1980 – 1988 during the Iran and Iraq war.

Highlighting the ‘behind the scenes’ horrors of this war, what better way to emphasize the ‘shock factor’ than in a horror? Most of the frights come from Anvari’s use of the ‘jump scare’ in a few scenes but leaving the real reactions from its content – shinning a light on the affects of war upon the Iranian families.

Shideh, a woman, wife and mother living in Iran during the war between Iran and Iraq, is introduced in the film as a woman feeling crushed and trapped by the new cultural enforces of her country. Being refused re-entry into medical school following her politically active past, we are shown the desperation and frustration felt by our protagonist. Anvari works well to depict the image of Shideh as being trapped in the regime and having no options open to her to change her fate. Women were being repressed and their voices unheard. Shideh is shown throughout this feature as having spells of silent action, giving the viewer the image of her silent frustration. 

A crack in Shideh’s ceiling, made by an un-exploded missile dropped by Iraq, grows larger throughout the action, reaching out across the surface creating a visual representation of the ever growing lack of control Shideh has over her life. We see her falling apart and unfortunately masking tape will not fix her problems for long. This however, is all she has – she cannot hold things together for long. We see Shideh’s monotone reactions to the events around her, feeling this to be the norm for her and other women of her time. It is almost as if she is accepting of her fate and life, and it would take something big to move her, something shocking to have her leave her home. Well this is what she receives; An evil spirit also know as a Djinn, in the form of a floating hijab. The material prison she begrudges now haunts her family in a physical manifestation.

Students are shocked by the nature of the cultural aspects different from our own. Our own western civil culture being un-relatable when watching life through the actions of Shideh. Shideh’s interactions with the police, especially in her hour of need, leave the audience a little uneasy. She is told “a woman should be scared of exposing herself more than anything”. This is an authentic telling of the views placed upon Iran at the time and the juxtaposition between the Islamic culture and our western culture is shocking.

I have a great appreciation to the deeper meaning depicted within the eye opening, shock factor of Under the Shadow. I am not particularly a fan of horrors but his is one I would happily re-watch again and again. Babak Anvari has succeeded in creating a feature film that speaks to the audience and opens the eyes of the people who underestimated the impact of this war.

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FESTEN (review of a Dogma)

One chaotic, uncontrollable family harboring secrets disguised by lies. One sixtieth birthday party bringing them all together. One seeded revelation shared within a speech to break them all apart.

Coming to grips with the suicide of his twin sister and having to attend the birthday party of his father, whom took advantage of the two of them when they were small children; Thomas decides that now is the time to bring his father to justice. Using his speech as a platform, Thomas stuns guests and viewers with the truth found within the green envelope.

The initial reaction of the family is shock, followed by the awkward silence that filled the room. Nobody speaks, it is fallen to the father to accuse Thomas of ‘crying wolf’ and the family take this as fact. Thomas’ father has such a high position within the family that his word is believed over that of his accusing son. It is curious to consider what reaction the viewer would take had they been sat upon the table during that very party. Would we have spoken out or left the room? This film pushes a few questions upon us.

Vinterberg succeeds in keeping to the Dogma manifesto. The hand held filming added authenticity to the feel of the film and created a rawness to the family. All music being played on set for this specific production gives a unique feel upon this family’s world us viewers are immersed within. There are parts of the production where the lack of natural light does seem to harbor the viewers enjoyment of the film, however, these moments do not last long and the frustration to understand what events are unfolding reassures the viewer that they are committed to this plot. As if we too are stumbling through the forest with Thomas in the dark, trying to find our way also.

This gripping and hard to swallow plot thickens throughout the duration of this film concluding upon the exit of Thomas’ father. Within our own society, we would wish for the father to be arrested and justice seen behind bars. Vinterberg creates a tense atmosphere as the family continue to disbelieve Thomas’ accusations and his ejection from the family. This leaves the audience rooting for Thomas to be believed and taken seriously so in the demise of the father towards his family and him being outcast – this feels like a win. We are satisfied that he has lost all credibility and power over his family and is shunned. Thomas’ dysfunctional family, no longer in turmoil, now seem to be headed for better things.

This gripping tale of loyalty, pain and betrayal is the perfect family saga. Topped off with the last shot captured upon the grin of Thomas’ mother sat at the head of the breakfast table.

Salvador Dali – Mountain Lake

Creative writing field trip to the Tate (Liverpool) for first year students to take notice of art and write a blog piece in response, opened the door for new challenges.

Creative with words, now having to use visual stimulation to ignite an emotion was an interesting task. One that came after hard work, frustrating failed attempts and finally with the aid of a tour guide – background research.

Buddying up with my fellow ‘mature student’ (in age not in mind), Eddie and I scoured the first two floors for inspiration. Finding that the images before us left us feeling more confused than connected. The abstract art and display of bold patterns did not speak to us in any language we could understand. We found ourselves staring at each other in bemusement with the artwork leaving no lasting impact upon our day.

In-fact, by the time we hit the third floor, we were feeling rather frustrated. I had started the day with excitement at the prospect of writing in response to a piece of art created by another. Something I had not attempted before. However as the number of abandoned frames passed, the more we lost hope of finding what we searched for.

Then came Salvador Dali’s oil painting, hung upon a wired cage, set within the center of the room. The green lake and hillside stopped us both in our tracks. Luckily a tour guide stood close by and was able to answer our questions.

Salvador had painted this piece to depict the lake in which his parents had visited prior to his conception. His parents had lost a child (also named Salvador) some years before and his mother suffered from depression as a result. Upon sight of this lake, Salvador’s mother was overcome and released her grief claiming the lake had cured her.

Salvador features within this piece a disconnected telephone representing the breakdown in communication between England and Germany at the beginning of the second world war. This is something we can all understand and in many cases, relate to. Giving the painting a despondent feel with the use of different shades of green, experimenting with the uncanny and mystical.

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This was the painting that I felt I could respond to. I’m not sure whether it’s the mystical feel or the hidden fish within the lake that keeps me engaged. Staring upon the tribute scene for his family, Salvador captures my imagination – immersing me into the landscape. The snails placed upon the receiver, I feel, represent the slow speed of this piece, reflecting the stillness of the captured space and producing a silent living being upon the mute object.

Salvador’s artwork is beautifully sad and mesmerizingly painful. A landscape chosen for its healing powers plagued with the realization of soon to be war. Maybe he placed the telephone here in the hope this could cure the relationship between Neville Chamberlain and Hitler in the same way it had cured his mother.

 

 

Holding up my family –

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I have been the ‘young mum’, the ‘stay at home mum’, the ‘working mum’, the ‘trying to hold my shit together mum’ and now I am a ‘student mum’! I feel like I have many hats to my experienced shelf but that does not stop me feeling a little lost sometimes.

Trying to be the best I can be 24/7 is a tremendously hard task. I shouldn’t beat myself up the one time I forget to send in that optional £2 book shop donation to my daughter’s school. Or the time I had to drive back to the school last minute after realizing the swimming bags were still on the back seat. Or the time I bought the kids a McDonald’s tea when I was too tired to cook. Or the nights the washing up gets forgotten until the morning as I have fallen asleep on the couch.

I cannot be the ‘best’ all the time, I will burn out! I found this out the hard way, a few years ago; every time we went on holiday (to unwind), as soon as I switched off ‘mummy mode’ I would fall ill. My body would rebel! I guess I was pushing it too far. I was trying to be the ‘American mum’ who bakes the best cookies, volunteers at the school, while holding down a job, keeping the house spotless, cooking nutritious/healthy meals and still finding the time to bath the children every night, read them a bed time story and mind my Ps and Qs. Letting go of this image that I had in my head of the ‘perfect mum’ was hard but I don’t think I would have survived if I hadn’t given myself a break. Forgiving myself was the first step.

When I ask the children if they sometimes wish they had a different mum, they always answer no – so I must be doing something right! Since starting my further education at university (and being the person that I am, wanting to be over-prepared for every lesson), I have had less time for the children. This was hard during the first two months and I experienced some extreme ‘mum guilt’, however I kept reminding myself that I am not only completing this course for myself, but for them too. I am showing them the rewards for hard work and preparation. I am being a role model! Nowadays I feel less guilty and more proud of myself.

Luckily there are tasks that I can do to enhance my academic journey while also spending time with the children. It helps that they both have a love for literature and are happy to be my audience/guinea-pigs. I have also started bringing them with me to (age appropriate) literary event and libraries.

To all mums out there – you are doing fine! All you can do is be the best you can be without burning yourselves out. Learn to put your sanity first from time to time; and enjoy parenthood before the children grow up – they don’t care whether the dishes are done or not!!!

Murakami – After Dark

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Murakami depicted ‘After Dark’ in a first-person plural narrative, something we found most effective; connecting the reader to Murakami himself as we took this journey with him. We read this novel during the early hours of the night from our safe, warm beds as our minds wonder off after a long day. We found that reading this piece during the dark hours gave a sense of realism and connection to the plot and almost transports us to Tokyo; the setting of the secret world within the darkness of busy cafes, offices and love hotels.

The main plot is focused around two sisters, Mari and Eri Asai. We follow Mari around the city throughout the night and trace her story as she meets a handsome musician – Takahashi, an old wrestler and the new manager of a love hotel – Kaoru, and an unfortunate Chinese prostitute – Gue. We also witness Eri tranced in a deep unwakeable sleep, watched by a mysterious masked man and transported through a static, unplugged television set.

The essence of this novel seems to be that the structure takes place during only one night; commencing at 11.56pm and ending abruptly at 6.52am.  We, the readers, are left unsatisfied as the answers to many questions we form during the reading are withheld from us. Although this is frustrating, the reality of most mysteries being left unsolved and puzzles taking longer to answer than just one night, create a realism to this magical piece.

Murakami cleverly uses the viewpoint of a portable camera to show the reader the images he wishes us to focus upon within the silent room of Eri’s bedroom. The meta-fiction used is extremely effective and almost creates a film feel to the actions depicted. This also immerses the reader into that very room with Eri.

We feel this novel should only be read at night, preferably in one sitting; maybe during a long flight or a bout of insomnia. We found ourselves reading enthusiastically from chapter to chapter at speed in an attempt to discover the motives and explanations for this strange world, only to be left needing more with a feeling of bemusement and un-satisfaction. Had we understood prior to reading his work, that Murakami specializes in eluding his readers, we may have accepted the abrupt ending. We therefore, pre-warn all readers to take in each situation and plot twist with an open mind and to be ready to build your own profiles for each character during the reading to only be continued after you have finished.

Multi-tasking Mum

Since starting my Creative Writing Undergraduate Degree in September (18), I have struggled with time management. Not in the ‘normal’ sense of leaving work/reading until the last minute or forgetting to complete a task; more that I have found myself not stopping from my 6am wake up call, until I hit my pillow at 10pm. My social life was almost non-existent and my children felt that I wasn’t paying them enough attention.

Half the time I felt dead on my feet and my husband only seemed to get half a conversation from me. One thing I am extremely thankful for is just how supportive my family are. My husband took over a lot of the house job, walking the dog and even completes the food shop every Saturday morning so that I have now more time to read, write and research.

Giving up control with regards to the running of the house was hard and I found myself getting jealous when hearing him reading to our youngest child at bed time. I didn’t want to spend the next three years face deep in books and miss the children growing up.

To combat this, I have had to work hard on my multi-tasking skills to free up more spare time to ‘be mum’. If you had met me a year ago, I could have burnt the tea if the phone rang or lose my handbag on a dog walk if I was distracted. I was terrible at completing two tasks at once.

Nowadays you can find me stood in the kitchen while I cook tea, read my book and listen to my daughter’s times tables. Walking the dog, while dictating a plot idea into my phone and listening to the latest ‘script notes’ podcast. Reading my little girl her bedtime story as I fold the laundry.

Don’t get me wrong, I put aside time during my day to complete tasks by themselves too, as to not risk a ‘half hearted’ attempt. Family dinner times are one part of the day that all technology is put away, no books at the table and phones off the hook, so we can have conversations about our days and catch up on what everyone is doing.

I plan the day ahead each morning and love my ‘to do lists’ to keep me on track. I am also teaching my children the benefits of hard work, being prepared and ‘knowing my topic’ (even at my age). My goal is to end the next three years with a degree, happy family and my sanity in tact. It’s not easy but worth it. I wouldn’t have my life any other way.

My Manifesto

In life all we can do is make promises and plans for ourselves. Setting goals and planning our futures gives clear outlines to our life/writing journeys. To grow and mature, we must put ourselves in positions and situation that push our boundaries. We learn by listening to/observing others, research, preparation, trial and error.

To ensure I am pushed to be the best that I can be, I have written myself a manifesto. Something I can refer to and use to keep myself motivated…

  • I aim to take part in as many literary events and opportunities as possible/available.
  • I aim to surround myself with great minds.
  • I aim to write everyday (even if it’s just in my journal).
  • I aim to read often and widely in all genres.
    I aim to be prepared and research where possible for events and the opportunities I am fortunate to be a part of.

These simple steps can aid my future and help build the writing experience I wish for. Life is what you make of it!