One of the most interesting aspects about Holy Spider is the film’s atypical construction, which amplifies suspense even while simultaneously revealing everything one would want to know.
It’s a thriller based on inspired true events in the early 2000s – notably family man Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani), an Iranian war veteran-turned-serial killer of 16 sex workers, and a female journalist named Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) determined to uncover his identity in the holy city of Mashhad, Iran. Almost from the beginning, the audience knows more than she does, and yet the more that’s divulged, the more one gets sucked in.
Although the police act indifferent to catching the killer, she befriends a local reporter (Arash Ashtiani) whom the ‘Spider’ has been calling to keep his deeds publicized. Together, and amidst a growing body count, they hatch a plan to catch the culprit on the nocturnal streets he roams.
Preposterous on occasion, Holy Spider is nevertheless stark in its bloodletting and authentic, arid atmosphere. Director and co-writer Ali Abbasi (whose Border was one of the most original films of the past 10 years) does a good job creating characters that feel lived in. A trait most evident in the way he presents the sex worker’s grim existences and their thwarted resiliency against the lumbering and monstrous Saeed.
Like the work of David Fincher, Abbasi manages to embrace genre elements while injecting them with daringness. The film advances to a conclusion of a trial and protest from the religious right, supplying information matter of factly while suggesting a system of female oppression enables men like this.
Even so, it’s Mehdi Bajestani’s Saeed that lingers afterwards, taking ordinariness and making it into evil, as horrifying as it is plausible.