How do you follow the undefinable and wonderfully weird Borders, Ali Abbasi's second film that really brought him into the international film circuit's attention with scenes that elicited gasps and admiration? The director chose a relatively more straightforward story without leaving his social conscious on the side. Holy Spider is the true story of a serial killer in Masshad who went on a so-called moral crusade by preying on and killing women in the early 2000s.Ali Abbasi takes an unexpected approach, by eschewing any kind of secrecy and revealing the identity of his killer right away, which makes sense considering this is a real case. Played with self-righteous anger by Mehdi Bajestani, Saeed wants to make sure the world knows about his acts, if not his identity by keeping contact with a journalist to ensure they are attributed to him, revelling in the attention.
Prowling the streets at night, each murder scene is terribly uncomfortable, with these vulnerable women victims of society to begin with, an uncaring society that took a long time to get this case solved in real life. Ali Abbasi's direction in these scenes at night is atmospheric and feverish but never too stylised and with the grimness of it all laid bare.
As a composite of several real life people, a female journalist from Tehran, Rahimi (Far Amir-Ebrahimi, impressive) investigates the case, having to face obstacles from a male orientated justice system that is as dismissive of her as it is unwilling to spend much resources finding the killer.
But Holy Spider does not end when the killer is caught, rather, in a chilling third act filmed with a contrasting style to what came before, the harsh reality and hypocrisy of a misogynistic society is laid bare, as Saeed becomes an unlikely hero for some who believe he was doing the work of God. It is this balance with the investigative thriller that came before that gives the film all its depth, with a politically charged message from a real story nearly twenty years old that still resonates to this day.
Review by Laurent De Alberti
Star rating: ★★★★☆
Official Selection, In Competition
Holy Spider. Denmark/France/Sweden 2022. Directed by Ali Abbasi. Starring Far Amir-Ebrahimi, Mehdi Bajestani...