Review by Joseph Fayed
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.