Girls Dormitory


Director: Mohammad Hossein Latifi
Year: 2004
Rating: 6.0
Country: Iran

The last thing I expected to come across was an Iranian female oriented horror film post the 1979 Revolution but here you go. There were quite a few trashy horror films before the Revolution but due to all the religious aspects, the curtailing of women's rights and just censorship in general there have not been many made in Iran while the rest of the world has gone into and out of horror cycles. In fact, two of the best known Farsi horror films were made by Iranian expats living outside of Iran - A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night made in the USA and Under the Shadow made in Syria. But to my surprise there have been a few - Zar (2017), Fish & Cat (2013) - a slasher film - and in 1985 a film titled The Rings which interestingly is about people getting phone calls to tell them when they were going to die. There are a few TV shows that have elements of horror and the supernatural in them though.

It covers some of the basic tropes of many of the girls in jeopardy horror films made in the West. Five girls on their own, a mad hard to kill killer out there somewhere and the girls acting stupidly. But there are major differences as well - there is no virgin vs the tramp where you know the tramp will get hers and the virgin survives - that is because all these girls are virgins and not about to lose it. This is Iran and all Muslim women are of course virgins till marriage. There is also very little graphic violence or clever twisted deaths awaiting the girls - but there is a bit of onscreen bloodshed. Mainly though what made this so different from a Western horror film is the natural and loving social interactions between the girls, within their families and between families - in a way this is the heart of the film and it would have been quite enjoyable just on that level without the introduction of horror which doesn't come until the second half. There is also the aspect of the modern Iranian woman going on here - these are girls who leave their families to go to university, wear a hijab but certainly not the chador and are amusing, playful and smart. In the end of course going out on their own has its issues - a killer. And perhaps a djinn.

Shirin (Negar Javaherian) and her best pal Roya (Baran Kosari) convince their fathers to let them go off to university in a small mountain town 30 minutes north of Tehran. Shirin's brother Farhad (Majid Salehi) who is goofily in love with Roya drives them there, but they discover that the girl's dormitory is being renovated so they are told to go stay in an apartment of a private home. A very old creaky falling apart home with a huge hole in the ceiling. There they make friends with three other girls and share food and laughs - but wonder about the creepy empty house next door. Their landlady tells them that the town's people think it is haunted by djinns - who eat your shadows.

Djinns are mythical demons that have been around before Islam but were incorporated into the religion and are mentioned in the Koran as well as The 1001 Nights. They can be harmless or deadly - take on shapes or be invisible. They are to be avoided though and the landlady thinks they might be responsible for brides who have gone missing over the past years. Of course, Roya who has the face of an angel but the heart of a warrior decides she needs to investigate and this sets off the horror section of the film. It gets more tense than you might expect though never close to terrifying. For someone looking for horror, this will likely leave them a card short but I just enjoyed setting it in a very different culture with family playing such a large role in it and a tough girl who fights for her life without a man to help her in such a patriarchal society. Well shot - low budget - and fine acting from the two main actresses but in particular from the killer - he is brutally frightening and menacing.