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South Carolina Honors College

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Film Review: A Djinn’s Perspective: Motherhood and Supernatural Manipulation in Under the Shadow

By Jennifer Khuu

“And the Jinn race, We had created before, from the fire of a scorching wind.”

 --Quran 15:27 

The Iran-Iraq War lured me, Gimad, a djinn who has been tormenting defenseless mothers for centuries. Originating from the pre-Islamic Middle East, djinns are spirits of smokeless fire who are not inherently good or bad and who can possess humans and inanimate objects. Since djinns emerge from the “fire of a scorching wind,” we often represent the horrors of war, from the displacement of families from their homes to the mental turmoil resulting from the stress and hardships such victims face. Although we might sound like terrible spirits, we were not always condemned and were even worshipped as masters of crafts and elements of nature, capable of turning land fertile. Oh, how I miss those days. Djinns enjoy many of the same things humans do: eating, sleeping, falling in love, and procreating. We’re quite similar to humans, except for the fact that we can move across dimensions, travel instantaneously, communicate telepathically, metamorphosize into a variety of forms, and possess humans and inanimate objects. 

 My haunting of Shideh and Dorsa began during the turmoil in Tehran. Initially, I wanted to possess one of them since they made a perfect target: a broken family with an apathetic father and a modern mother who disregarded her daughter’s concerns (I was an old-fashioned demon who thought that mothers should devote their entire souls to their children). Little Dorsa knew of me after the boy from next door told her. It was only after the initial missile strike on their apartment building that I showed myself to the mother-daughter duo. I stole the little girl’s doll so that I could possess one of them. However, Shideh’s annoyance with Dorsa angered me. How could she be so neglectful and dismissive of her own daughter? No child should have to deal with such disregard and apathy from the person who is supposed to raise and nurture her. After seeing the disconnect between them, I only wanted to help them grow closer. I did my best to make Shideh realize that she was neglecting her daughter and that she should return to the old ways of devoted motherhood. When I scolded her about her poor parenting, preying upon her guilt, I caused her to go into a panic. As they were leaving, I tried to lure Shideh to the complex with Dorsa’s screams, but she did not fall for it. When she realized that she was unable to protect herself and her daughter, a realization for which I take credit, she finally decided to flee the cursed apartment building. 

Something strange happened when I attempted possess Shideh. When I slipped inside her mind for a minute, I began to understand her point of view. Poor Shideh. Her husband left his own family during a war without showing any remorse. On top of that, Shideh was barred from medical school because of her activism in leftist political rallies. As a result, she became a prisoner in her own home, unable to leave because of the battlefield beyond their doorstep. Shideh and Dorsa were vulnerable, especially after everyone in the building evacuated, leaving me with the perfect opportunity to strike. What a stubborn woman she was, refusing to leave the building to live with her in-laws, even though it would have ensured her safety for herself and her daughter. Eventually, she came to realize her mistake in staying, all because of me. The isolation and loneliness that Shideh experienced increased her anxiety and fear of the unknown. 

I came to this war-stricken city in hopes of finding someone to possess. I thought I had found the perfect candidates, Shideh and Dorsa, but I ended up pitying them. I wanted to help the mother and daughter reform their bond, even if their connection was borne of trauma. But my pity for Shideh’s plight and my respect for her strength gave me pause, making me reconsider the old ways of mothering. After a thousand years of tormenting susceptible mothers, it is time to find a different kind of host. Maybe I’ll focus on neglectful fathers from now on. Honestly, I have all the time in the world to find another human to possess. I was only drawn to Shideh and Dorsa because of their vulnerability, but I couldn’t help but sympathize with them and care for them as if they were my own family. Since Shideh was so stubborn about staying, I had no choice but to resort to fear to drive them away to safety. As mentioned before, djinns are not necessarily evil or good. Like humans, we were simply created to worship God. So, don’t fear us—or do. It just depends on what we feel like doing to you. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.