In the dark and lonely night, a woman meets a man on a motorbike. She’s a sex worker, and so far we’ve followed her through several client meetings, but this one is different. She knows something is wrong and tries to leave, but it’s too late, the man is already throwing himself at her, and soon she will be dead. holy spider is the second feature film to depict the events surrounding the murder and capture of Saeed Hanaei, an Iranian serial killer who murdered sixteen women in Mashhad, Iran, from 2000 to 2001. It is a harrowing and hard-hitting look at the misogyny in societies, and to what extent it can resonate.
Directed by Ali Abbassi, Spider takes a look at the murders through the lens of a procedural thriller. At the helm of any good procedural thriller is a determined person (usually a detective or reporter) who will stop at nothing to get to the heart of the mystery. Here, that role is taken over by Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, in a fierce and courageous performance) a fictional journalist written in the film to help audiences see that the misogyny that made possible the murders of Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani) in first place flows into every interaction. From the cruel and grueling shameless murders to a flippant comment about hiding Rahimi’s hair, Spider wants us to know that even the occasional misogyny helps the vile and violent actions it inspires thrive. It’s a stark but necessary examination of misogyny on every level, even the most gruesome. We see everything that Saeed does to women, but also his family life with his children and his wife. It’s a disconcerting way to show us that even seemingly “good” men can be anything but. The violence, in particular, is brutal – there have reportedly been several walkouts at Cannes. You see everything Saeed does, and it can be incredibly heartbreaking. He straddles the line between exploitation and necessity, and everyone’s response to on-screen violence will be different. I think it’s ultimately necessary to understand the magnitude of Said’s crimes and highlight the brutality of sexism that pervades the entire film. It also increases the central tension of the film – since we know who the killer is, will anyone do anything to stop him? Spider is a heavy watch and is guaranteed to haunt you long after you leave the theater. It offers no easy comfort, no clean ending, and certainly no satisfaction even if the killer is caught. Perhaps, especially now in the wake of the death of Masha Amini, it is important to remember that the impact of misogyny in any society is far-reaching, with irreparable repercussions. Spider makes sure we never forget.