Rahami (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) is a journalist who is starting to get concerned about killings that she’s been hearing about in her local area. So far, all the women have been sex workers and despite the general bad feelings towards them, Rahami is determined to get justice done.
She meets with Sharifi (Arash Ashtiani), a journalist who has received calls from the killer after every murder, detailing his motivations, as if wanting his crimes to be made public. Together, Rahami and Sharifi do what they can in an institution that would do anything to brush such heinous atrocities under the carpet.
Holy Spider is a film directed and co-written by Ali Abassi, inspired by a true story of a man known as the Spider Killer who killed 16 sex workers in Iran from 2000-2001. Starting out as a typical kind of serial killer movie, Holy Spider then goes beyond the killer getting caught. Continuing as the shocking details of the court procedures unfurl that may have seen Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani) walk away a free man.
Giving the typical kind of formula for a serial killer feature, Rahami is faced with all the kinds of things that may happen in other more glamorised fiction. She’s a single woman in a society that sees women as less than men, and when she goes to the police they don’t believe her, forcing her to take on the investigation herself.
Holy Spider even goes as far as to show the killings in lurid detail which suggests to the audience that this is not all that different from what they see in a typical true crime drama.
However, after that then the tone changes and the wider issues are explored and exposed as Saeed enters the courtrooms and the audience realises what he faces. Bajestani gives a suitably smug and self-righteous performance as the real killer may have done, explaining his motives he gains a following due to a deeply religious and misogynistic patriarchy. This gives Holy Spider a far deeper insight into what could have been an easy open and shut case and shows the bigger problems facing women in Iran.
Saying this though, the tonal shifts in the film are a little misleading and verge on dismissing its victims as merely victimless faces. Although if audiences stick with it through to the end then they will see the world is not so different wherever you go.
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