From 2000 to 2001, a serial killer murdered sixteen women in the holy city of Mashhad, Iran. HOLY SPIDER, from writer/director Ali Abbasi, is based on this true story, and follows the uncompromisingly principled journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi, recipient of the Cannes Film Festival 2022 Best Actress Award for this role) as she sifts through the societal decay of one of Iran’s holiest cities in order to bring the “Spider Killer” (Mehdi Bajestani) to justice.
The nuanced performances of Ebrahimi and Bajestani imbue their respective characters with compelling complexity. Ebrahimi plays Rahimi not only with the anxiety that comes with being a target of patriarchal misogyny, but also with the inner fortitude to resist it. Bajestani, meanwhile, portrays Saeed, the Spider Killer, with disturbing realism: a murderous madness fueled by internalized shame, justified by faith, and hidden by veneer of normality.
The true horror, however, arises not from the Spider Killer himself, but from the proverbial web he calls home, one captured by the unflinching cinematographic eye of Nadim Carlsen; A dogmatic society where exploitation, desperation, and violent misogyny are the de facto status quo.