Iran has been in the news a lot recently, and not for the right reasons. Sparked by the murder of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who had been taken into custody by the morality police, the country has been in the grip of violent protests since September. The lack of rights for women is nothing new in Persia, essentially treated as second-class citizens since the culmination of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Holy Spider is a film which is steeped in this traditionalist theocracy.
The holy city of Mashhad is in the grip of a serial killer. The ‘Spider’ (Mehdi Bajestani) is targeting prostitutes, believing that in murdering them he is doing the work of God. Many of the residents agree. The police are clueless even though pressure is coming from Tehran to solve the case. Enter Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), a journalist who arrives to cover the story. With the investigation going nowhere, she decides to take matters into her own hands, placing herself in danger to catch the culprit.
Holy Spider is a tense and exacting thriller which places a number of societal issues front and centre. Based on the terrible crimes of Saeed Hanaei in the 2000s, Ali Abbasi’s crime drama could have been set any time over the last forty-odd years. It’s a damning indictment of the corruption, oppression, incompetence, prejudice and discrimination which is rife in modern Iran. While the split narrative doesn’t quite fully catch, Holy Spider is an impressive piece of social commentary wrapped up in the hunt for a killer.
Holy Spider opens in the US on 28 October.