VIFF2022: ‘Holy Spider’ Review

Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider is a masterfully crafted valuable film detailing the violent nature of the patriarchy.

Courtesy of Wild Bunch


It’s important to know as much about the world that we inhabit. We’ve convinced ourselves through years of being force-fed individualism that we should only care about what happens to us individually. It’s a culture that you find a lot of in the United States and some of the Western World. Why care about what happens in countries that you have nothing to do with? The answer is really simple. We are one collective of human beings and attacks on others should be met with solidarity because when the time comes who will be there to help us? At the moment, Iran is going through a social revolution after the murder of 16-year-old, Masa Amini. Denmark’s official submission for Best International Feature at the 96th Academy Awards, Holy Spider, is not based on these recent events but it offers a different lens at the violence caused by the patriarchy. I was already interested in this film since I make it a mission to watch as many submissions for this category as I can. Well, it’s safe to say that I have watched one of my favorite movies of this year.

Directed by Ali Abbasi (Border, Shelley) and written by Abbasi along with Afshin Kamran Bahrami. The film stars Zar Amir-Ebrahimi (The Survivors, Tehran Taboo), Mehdi Bajestani (These are the Things You Don’t Know), Arash Ashtiani (Only Sound Remains, The Tunnel), Forouzan Jamshidnejad (Miltra), and Sina Parvaneh (The Interpreter, Nocturnes). The film has been picking up a notable amount of steam since its premiere at Cannes where Amir-Ebrahimi took home the Best Actress award. The film received walkouts over the graphic nature of its sexual violence. One would think that this is a Lars Von Trier film after hearing about such acts. Yet the graphic nature is just as important as the tame parts of the film. You must not look away from the reality of the world Holy Spider is in.

The film follows a journalist who is trying to uncover the truth about Saeed Hanaei nicknamed the “Spider Killer” who is responsible for the murders of sex workers during the early 2000s. The acts happen inside Mashhad, the second most populated city in Iran. Throughout the film, we follow both perspectives of Rahimi and Hanaei as the thriller continues to uncover the truth behind the serial killer’s despicable actions. An important commentary on society that makes sure that its audience doesn’t look away.

Ali Abbasi’s film is one of the best I’ve seen this year. It’s woven together by a plot that you can’t look away from. The film’s tight visual language creates a tense atmosphere that the picture follows until the closing credits. It is Zar Amir-Ebrahimi and Mehdi Bajestani’s performances that stand out from the rest, providing some of the best actings this year alone. Hanaei’s motives are laid out and the corruption of the system is on full display. Yet the film reminds us that violent and oppressive governments will always work in their own interests. Holy Spider provides the necessary mirror to its intended audience and points it towards them to dissect how people like Hanaei can be bred in the underbelly of their society.

Watch Holy Spider during its continued festival run.

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