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Death for sex workers: Horrific and eye-opening portrayal

MIFF FILM REVIEW Title: Holy Spider Run time: 1h 57m Director: Ali Abbasi Cast: Zar Amir Ebrahmi, Mehdi Bajestani Where and when: No current plans for release in Australia Rating: 4/5

Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider details the horrific true events that took place in the holy city of Mashhad, Iran, in 2000 and 2001, when 16 women were murdered because they were sex workers.

Abbasi has created a nightmarish noir that sickens and shocks not with just the explicit acts of violence, but the collected mindset shared by the characters who view the killings of the women as a “cleansing”.

Abbasi does not shy away from the politically rife ideals and the patriarchal values shared by the city. The titular “Spider Killer” is hailed as a hero by his family, friends and the community for killing these women, who are deemed worthless. In a shocking sequence, even his young son wishes to join his father on this journey to cleanse the city. 

Released at the Cannes Film Festival this year, Zar Amir Ebrahim, who plays the journalist Rahimi, won the award for best actress.

Seen through her eyes as she attempts to catch the Spider Killer, the film shows the dark underbelly of Mashhad as well as the corruption that is ultimately allowing the killer to get away with these horrific murders.

Death for sex workers: Horrific and eye-opening portrayal

Mehdi Bajestani as the titular Spider Killer.

Holy Spider is not for everyone; the film is brutal and horrifically eye-opening. The realistic performances and subdued direction steeps you in the perilous nightlife, where danger could be lurking around any corner. Shot in the dark with grimy neon lights shining on our characters’ faces, the film excels at putting you into the shoes of the characters that wander the night looking for clues that’ll help them find the killer.

Ebrahimi plays her role with a quiet intensity, a woman on a mission who is also struggling to deal with past conflicts, while Mehdi Bajestani is riveting as the Spider Killer – a family man dealing with a lot of bubbling anger, wanting his life to mean something. Bajestani expertly portrays the complexities of the man behind the monster.

Abbasi’s film is not for the faint-hearted, but those who can stomach it will find a captivating crime noir that plunges you into the deepest, darkest depths of a horrific investigation that comments to the mindset of an entire city rather then one man.


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