Holy Spider, an alluring thriller based on a true story

We first got to know the Iranian- Danish film director Ali Abassi through the wonderful and surprising film“Border” which was inspired in the story of the same name by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist – for which he won “Un Certain Regard” at the Cannes Festival and also represented Sweden at the 2018 Oscars – and later for being the director of the ninth and last episode of the final season of “The Last of Us”. With such a CV, we couldn’t not watch “Holy Spider”, a thriller based on a true story, in which a serial killer terrorised Iran by murdering more than 16 prostitutes in the holy city of Mashhad in the name of morals.

16 femicides in the name of Imam Reza

Iran, 2001. A Teheran journalist, played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who won the Award for Best Actress, wants to discover who the serial killer is in this lurid true story. To do so, she decides to go beyond her role as a journalist and dives into the worst districts of Mashhad, despite the dangers.

Male chauvinism on two counts

However, as this takes place in an extremely religious and conservative chauvinistic society, Rahimi falls prey to its grip. To be a woman, a beautiful woman and a journalist in a sector dominated by macho men is really complicated. So not everyone respects her for her talent – in fact she suffers sexual harassment at work – she is seen as prey to be conquered, ignoring the fact that she is a professional. Just awful. Even so, she does not give in to pressure or these uncomfortable situations but fights to achieve her objective.

Complicit Fundamentalism

What Rahimi also discovers is that the local authorities are in no rush to resolve the crime. It appears that they even want to cover for Saeed Hanaei – nicknamed “the spider killer” by the press-, a religious fanatic who looks harmless, and who is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war that regrets not becoming a hero or a martyr. Hanaei is married to Fátima and is a father of two, but he has an unwavering aim: “to cleanse the city of its sins” by murdering prostitutes at night.

“Just as in real life, Hanaei was hailed a hero by most of society in Mashhad, as they considered these crimes a sacred mission.”

My dear Watson…

Although Rahimi seems to be facing danger alone, she finds an accomplice in a colleague who helps her with her investigation, Sharifi (Arash Ashtiani), a local reporter who sometimes becomes her shadow. Especially when she decides to take the ultimate risk and act as a prostitute in order to catch the killer. A gruesome situation, that has you on the edge of your seat…

“Holy Spider is a frenetic, alluring, dark, sometimes suffocating thriller with a really beautiful aesthetic, very much in Fincher’s style.”

“Holy Spider” is exciting, hypnotic, crude and necessary, as it highlights a real problem where the tentacles of religious fundamentalism, the systemic misogyny in families and the censorship of Iranian society are some of the central points of the plot.


Available on Filmin.