Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked to Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Ali Abbassi
Screenwriter: Ali Abbasi, Afrshin Kamran Bahrami
With: Mehdi Bajestani, Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Forouzan Jamshidnejad, Alice Rahimi
Screening at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/21/22
Opening: October 28, 2022
In discussions of former President Donald Trump, I’ve heard the argument that “you can’t blame him for lying, racism, sexism, vulgarity.” Since a politician’s job is to get elected, Trump plays to his base. He can personally believe or not everything he says. The real evil is found in a country that harbors and even encourages base emotions, sadistic impulses, and politics as pure entertainment.
The same could be said for Iran, as exemplified in the melodramatic “Holy Spider.” The film, by Iranian-born director Ali Abbasi, who studied cinema in Denmark and now lives in Copenhagen, depicts events that took place in the holy city of Mashhad from 2000 to 2001. The central character is a serial killer, Saeed Hanaei (Mehdi Bajestani), who upon his arrest testified that he was doing God’s work cleaning up the prostitutes in this metropolis. Based on real events surrounding the strangulation murder of sixteen women, “Holy Spider” almost seems to make the man a hero, showing him as a mere purveyor of religious fanaticism to Iranian society. As the director says in his Wikipedia article…
“My intention was not to make a serial killer movie. I wanted to make a movie about a serial killer society. It’s about the deep-rooted misogyny within Iranian society…not specifically religious or political but cultural.Therein lies a comparison between Iranian culture and what passes for the culture of tens of millions of us here in the United States.
Saeed Hanaei is a fifty-year-old man who supports his wife, son, and young daughter as a mason. He would pick up prostitutes on his motorbike at night and take them to his apartment with promises of opium, good food and money. Closing the door, he sneaked up behind most of his victims and strangled them with their own hijabs. The scenes are bloody: women turn red, breathless, trying to defend themselves as he would first leave them half dead, then kneel on them and finish the job with their own clothes on. Critics and general audiences alike wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the film, which ostensibly tackles misogyny, is guilty of the same evil itself. Not for director Abassi and co-screenwriter Afrshin Kamran Bahrami is the custom of ancient Greek playwrights who put violent action outside the set.
The film tries to convince the audience that there is nothing wrong with what prostitutes do; that they ply their trade because they know of no other way to earn money and because they have been addicted to drugs by the culture of their social class. We sit in the audience of the theater wondering if Said will be punished or if he will get away with a short prison sentence or a series of whippings. He appears to convince the court that he is doing Allah’s work and has a record of being a near-martyr, having served on the front lines during the Iran-Iraq War.
If it hadn’t been for Mrs. Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), a brave journalist, Saeed might have succeeded in his plan to murder two hundred women all over Iran. His trapping method seems brave but also stupid. Based on her plan to play a prostitute and allow herself to be escorted to the killer’s apartment, she could easily have become the seventeenth victim, with little hope of escaping the person’s grasp. the strongest when she was armed only with a penknife. At the same time as it is surprising that Iranian society even allows a woman to be a police journalist, we see how she is confronted by aggressive men, including a high-ranking cop who traps her in her hotel and manager of a small hotel who refuses to honor her reservation because she is a woman traveling alone.
With a moving script and a director who knows how to crank up the tension, “Holy Spider” will appeal to both audiences craving a murder story and audiences pondering how a killer can be created. from a society in which women are better off than their gender in Afghanistan, but remain second-class citizens. As the journalist, Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who lives in Paris, became the first Iranian to win the Best Actress award at Cannes.
In Farsi with English subtitles.
116 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
History – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+