Opening 12 Jan 2023
Writing credits: Ali Abbasi, Afshin Kamran Bahrami, Jonas Wagner
Principal actors: Mehdi Bajestani, Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Forouzan Jamshidnejad, Sina Parvaneh
After a gentle kiss and promise, “I’ll be back before you wake,” the young nocturnal streetworker roams dimly lit streets searching for customers and a hashish cure-all in Ali Abbasi’s double-whammy thriller about societal aberrations. Before the break of day that mother’s promise is broken. A zealot roams Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest religious mecca city intent on purging the impure to right societal wrongs. Time and again the nightrider lures prey into his web on his scooter, later dumping the tightly cloaked bodies. A passing car’s headlights highlight the killer’s unique ring. In another area of Mashhad, the hard-working family man Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani) finds stability through prayer, and time with wife Fatima (Forouzan Jamshidnejadx) and children. As more women disappear the Iranian media frenzy increases; the killer’s monikered “Spider Killer.”
Arriving from Istanbul with her nose bent to the story, Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) is prompted by Sharifi (Arash Ashtiani) to wear her scarf – to do otherwise is an effrontery to the morality police. Concurrently, the serial killer loses control; the body count mounts. Ironically, the victims’ trade and police mindset preclude investigating thoroughly. Rahimi takes more risks, Sharifi tries to keep up and together they realize the web’s complexity. It is spun so tightly it protects Spider Killer, and the stakes are high. Inconceivably, Spider’s family and friends rally round. One said, "He did the right thing. He should have continued." Shockingly, the court’s ultraconservative faction lackadaisically regards the prisoner’s declaration of blamelessness, of being merely a (self-appointed) enforcer against the impure with Mohamed’s approval, no less. Tirelessly Rahimi and Sharifi investigate along with the murdered women’s families. Nevertheless, hardliners’ pro-morality stance seems indomitable.
A student during the Saeed Hanae’s murder spree in 2000-2001—16 women were murdered before he was caught, Iranian director Ali Abbasi’s aim was to rectify the then perplexing societal and civil/legal response. Abbasi and Afshin Kamran Bahrami’s screenplay creates the strong female journalist to counterbalance male violence, and “underline the complexity of the issue and the stakes on different sides, especially on behalf of the victims.” The policeman tells Rahimi, “Know your place, Miss!” “It is about the deep-rooted misogyny within Iranian society, which is not specifically religious or political but cultural. ...” The cast is brilliant – Zar Amir-Ebrahimi won Best Actress award at 2022 Cannes Film Festival, and production values excel. Kudos to Nadim Carlsen’s night cinematography predatoriness, and Martin Dirkov’s score. Holy Spider is Denmark’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards. (Marinell Haegelin)