The film Holy Spider has been in the headlines since its premiere at Cannes in May. While Zar Amir Ebrahimi won the best actress award at Cannes for her stellar performance, the nation of Iran considered it insulting and politically motivated. Based on a true story, the film certainly tries to shine a light on how society can enable a serial killer.
The film follows Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), who goes to Mashhad, Iran to investigate a series of murders of sex workers throughout the city. Her efforts to investigate further are often halted by the police, who do not take the murders seriously enough, primarily due to the victims being sex workers. We also cut back and forth between Rahimi and our killer, Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani), a family man by day and the spider killer by night.
Director Ali Abbasi does not hesitate to show the plight of the situations these women faced in real life. The first 10 minutes, in particular, take you through the notions of one of Saeed's victims. Surprisingly, It does not dwell too much on the unglamorous side of sex work (despite the circumstances), nor should it have to. The emphasis is on how these women were preyed on and how the sheer thought of sex was used against them.
The film does devote time to those who surround Rahimi and Saeed. In the film's first half, Rahimi's backstory is expanded and sets out her motivations for coming to Mashhad. Her emotional being and questioning of the faulty police investigation surrounding her. This takes the backburner in the second half, which mainly focuses on how Saeed thought his killings were morally cleansing the world. This represents the shift in focus from how Saeed could commit so many murders to why Saeed did so.
The last third of the film is the messiest part of it all. A lot is on the table in the final 40 minutes that may draw upon the liberty of true events, but it draws upon secondary characters who mostly served as unimportant compared to our two main characters. Thankfully, our attention on Saeed and Rahimi amplifies the message the film is trying to get across: how do we handle deep-rooted misogyny?
Holy Spider has been described by its director as not a film about a serial killer but about a serial killer society. When told through its two leading perspectives, that feels truthful. This well-paced thriller certainly has chilling moments that will leave you disturbed, just like the true story would.
Holy Spider is now in theaters.
Slayers is a poorly edited mess of a vampire comedy/slasher film from director K. Asher Levin. It follows a group of influencers who are invited to a reclusive billionaire's mansion, only for it to be a lair for evil vampires. Based on the synopsis alone, you can accurately assume this film is a poor mash-up of films like From Dusk Till Dawn or The Hunt.
The biggest hint I was in for a real treat was right from the start when we saw photos of various historical figures edited to be vampires. The only real laugh I had watching this was seeing Adolf Hitler with red eyes and fangs. It is one of many cheesy gimmicks and brief cutaways the film relies on, none of which do anything but make it more obvious how low-budget this production must have been.
The group of influencers the film follows are meant to be shallow people, but each is given dialogue that sounds like it was directly ripped off every other YouTube vlogger's stream. There is no other humor presented, and the script is also unable to make the distinction between parody or playing into stereotypes.
Our vampires are a billionaire philanthropist couple who invited the group to their mansion to partake in "vaccine trials." I could delve into a debate over the exploitation of capitalism by the super-rich here, much like the film was trying to poke fun at, but that would require adding insight to the debate, which the film fails to do. The conspiracy element ultimately fails not just because it is too far-fetched to be believed but because it adds another layer to a story that can't even stand well on its own.
Not one actor here gives a somewhat decent performance here. It is hard to blame them, though, when their characters were written so blandly. Towards the final act, we learn through a series of more poorly-edited cutaways how the vampires came to be. That proves to be too little too late to salvage the plot when the first 75 minutes or so of this mess had nothing to offer besides Instagram and fake blood.
Slayers has nothing new to add to its genre. When you're not bored by the predictable plot, you will be highly annoyed with the production values that look like an influencer's sponsored ad funded it. Stay away from this one like vampires keep away from holy water.
Slayers is now on VOD.
Review by Joseph Fayed
Old People is a German horror film on Netflix that begins with a title card that says the quote, "In times of Yole, an avenging spirit was thought to inhabit old people." If you think that means the film will be a supernatural thriller that delves into the deeper meaning of terror that comes with age, you are sadly mistaken.
The film centers on a mother and her two children who visit the village to attend a wedding for family they have become estranged from. In this rural village, the elderly population decides to go on a killing spree of the younger generations in town. The plot does not extend beyond familiar tropes, but the biggest issue is that we learn nothing about any of the characters beyond a surface level.
Many of the old people who act as our antagonists are not introduced until we visit the retirement home where the grandfather of the family resides. At this point, we briefly see the horrible conditions that the elderly are being subjected to. Some more dialogue, perhaps amongst the elderly people living there or grandfather Aike's family, to explain their neglect of him would have been very helpful towards driving the plot forward. Instead, we are left to believe that the bloodbath that ensues is just because they decided to act out of order. No emotions were elicited here.
There are no genuine surprises while watching this slasher. Any of the family drama that unfolds between the divorced wife and husband and his jealous new wife could have been seen from a mile away. Admittedly it is hard to root for or against any of them when their fates are quite predictable. The first 30 or so minutes really add nothing crucial to the film until killings begin to occur. Also, twice during the film, we are subjected to prolonged scenes of the attacks without any audible dialogue. They were weirdly placed, and given how both scenes showed what happened to two central characters, it seemed drawn out and unnecessary to include.
The two children are also underdeveloped and poorly acted. Neither of them showcased any convincing despair when they were being attacked by the elderly. They truly are only secondary characters until the latter part of the film, and I would struggle to consider either of them protagonists by the finale.
It was hard not to compare this film to X while watching this. But what X did so much better was explain how one could be driven to rage if one lives such a lonely life. The elderly villains in this film were just lonely until they picked up whatever weapons they could. If you like elements of gore, then maybe Old People is for you, but there are more exciting horror films out there if you want to see some elderly villains.
Old People is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Joseph Fayed
The new Netflix documentary A Trip to Infinity by directors Jonathan Halperin and Drew Takahashi tackles the concept of infinity, led by experts ranging from renowned physicists to mathematicians to philosophers who offer their perspectives on the concept. The most common thread between their insight is that there is no finite answer to what infinity truly is.
Set against the backdrop of different animation styles, the documentary is divided into chapters on how infinity is approached from our real-world perspective. In one memorable early sequence in the film, infinity is presented as this infinite hotel with an endless number of rooms that keep multiplying when more guests check into this hotel.
The sequence is shot in the style of Steamboat Willie and is the most engaging animation we have presented in the film that truly breaks down the complex information being told by a voice-over. One recurring element of the film is the idea that we, as humans, are such small fragments of this big wide universe.
One, like myself, may not fully understand the concept of infinity outside of what has been taught in a school classroom, but the aforementioned example about how small we are in this big universe is admittedly underused when discussing how vast something like a black hole can be.
The segment discussing black holes in the universe does differ from the rest of the documentary when each interview subject is given a small black sphere to hold. At this point, the interviews seem to turn from how mathematics is applied to understanding infinity to how we present it to ourselves. One of the mathematicians, Steve Strogatz, uses this sphere to explain how this object is only a reflection of infinity and not an accurate representation. I could not help but laugh at that moment when I noticed how much more self-aware he is than the directors are before quickly remembering what his profession was.
It is pointed out towards the end of the film that humans are bound by rationality and creativity and that we can not be infinite. We are bounded by ourselves, essentially. There are no definite answers to be given about this. Yet, it does feel defeating to have spent ninety minutes learning about the concept of infinity only to be told that it is nearly impossible to visualize it.
Ultimately, A Trip to Infinity has interesting moments, but when broken down, its segments could have easily been featured on the Netflix series Explained instead of as a feature-length documentary.
A Trip to Infinity is now streaming on Netflix.