Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Holy Spider’ Haunts You Long After It Ends

In the dark and lonely night, a woman meets a man on a motorcycle. She is a sex worker, and so far we have followed her in various client meetings, but she is feeling different. She knows something is wrong and tries to leave, but it is too late, the man is already lunging at her and soon she will be dead. holy spider is the second feature film to depict the events surrounding the murders and capture of Saeed Hanaei, an Iranian serial killer who murdered sixteen women in Mashhad, Iran, between 2000 and 2001. It is a harrowing and harsh look at misogyny in the societies, and how far it can resonate.

Directed by Ali Abbasi Spider take a look at the murders through the lens of a procedural thriller.
At the helm of any good procedural thriller is one determined person (usually a detective or journalist) who will stop at nothing to get to the heart of the mystery. Here, this role is taken on by Rahimi (Tsar Amir-Ebrahimi, in a fierce and courageous performance), a fictional journalist written into the film to help the audience see that the misogyny that made Saeed’s (Mehdi Bajestani) murders possible in first place leaks on every interaction. From the brazenly cruel and exhausting murders to a casual comment about hiding Rahimi’s hair, Spider he wants us to know that even casual misogyny helps the vile and violent actions it inspires thrive.

It’s a brutal but necessary examination of misogyny on every level, even the frightening ones. We see everything that Saeed does to women, but also his family life with his children and his wife. It’s a disconcerting way of showing us that even seemingly “good” men can be anything but. The violence, especially, is brutal: there were reportedly multiple strikes at Cannes. You see everything Saeed does, and it can be incredibly heartbreaking. Draw the line between exploitation and need, and everyone’s response to on-screen violence will be different. I think ultimately it is necessary to understand the scope of Saeed’s crimes and underscore the brutality of the sexism that permeates the entirety of the film. It also heightens the central tension of the film: since we know who the killer is, will someone do anything to stop him?

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Spider it’s a heavy watch and is guaranteed to haunt you long after you leave the theater. It offers no easy comfort, no clean ending, and certainly no satisfaction, even if the killer is caught. Perhaps, especially now after the death of Masha Amini, it is important to remember that the impact of misogyny in any society is far-reaching, with irreparable repercussions. Spider makes sure we never forget.


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