Holy moly, Holy Spider is intense.
Based on a true story, the crime drama follows the cat-and-mouse game between a journalist, Rahimi (Zahra Amir Ebrahimi), and a serial killer (Mehdi Bajestani) targeting vulnerable women. It hits close to home, highlighting how intense the hatred for women is in Iran. For decades the women of Iran have been crushed under the heel of a patriarchal society fueled by a culture that grossly misinterprets Islamic texts. As evident in the film, Iranian society deems women’s bodies as something to be monitored and condemned.
Only mere days after Holy Spider’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, a young woman was murdered by police for the “crime” of wearing her hijab “improperly,” making scenes with our protagonist struggling to maintain a proper headdress that much more harrowing.
Holy Spider grapples with the moral issue at the heart of this true story; however, it doesn’t necessarily challenge the morals that influence the serial killer’s actions, but the societal morals that encourage and celebrate his behaviour. Ali Abbasi’s latest is not for the faint of heart. It is a nasty piece of work that does not shy away from the monstrous acts perpetrated by the killer, but the social theme is especially stomach-churning.
While “justice” is served, it is hardly as cathartic as one desires it to be because no amount of justice can quell the darkness that blankets Iran. As long as women are demonized for simply existing and doing what they can to survive, there is no justice. Holy Spider is not just another crime thriller aimed to have its audience at the edge of their seat, rooting for the heroine to get the bad guy. It is a reminder that the injustice at hand has been cultivated for a prolonged period and still governs the holy city of Mashhad and Iran at large.
Holy Spider is a dark film. Beautifully rendered and fiercely acted, its themes and story are emotionally overwhelming and somewhat exhausting. After watching, one must sit with the emotions and thoughts provoked by the stunning third act. Abbasi doesn’t merely recapture events that happened; his intent is clearly to have the harrowing drama of these events illuminate just how far the killer’s ideals reach.