Inspired by a terrifying true story, “Holy Spider” untangles the web of a serial killer in Iran.
Cannes Best Actress award winner Zar Amir Ebrahimi stars as a journalist who travels to the Iranian holy city of Mashhad to investigate a serial killer who believes he is doing the work of God, cleansing the streets of sinners by murdering sex workers. Per an official synopsis, as the body count mounts and Rahimi draws closer to exposing his crimes, the opportunity for justice grows harder to attain as the “Spider Killer” (Mehdi Bajestani) is embraced by many as a hero. But the killer’s religious quest to “cleanse” Mashhad of “immoral and corrupt” street prostitutes turns into a desperate attempt to foster public interest in his divine mission.
“Holy Spider” is based on the horrific true story of serial killer Saeed Hanaei, who was captured in 2001 after murdering 16 women. Acclaimed writer/director Ali Abbasi (“Border”) unveils a gripping crime thriller and a daring indictment of a society in which rough justice is routinely a fact of life. Abbasi won the Best Director award at 2022 Fantastic Fest. “Holy Spider” is the official Danish submission for the 95th Academy Awards in the Best International Feature category.
Abbasi co-wrote the film with Afshin Kamran Bahrami; Utopia handles distribution for the feature. Director Abbasi told IndieWire that he was “afraid of the consequences” of the film’s release for actor Bajestani, who plays the war veteran turned Spider Killer. “He is taking an insane risk. If this was an American thriller, it would be panned or praise, sell or not sell, but it’s not like the actor would be in danger of going to prison,” Abbasi said. Abbasi likened the role to that of Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”
“Look, a lot of people in Iran have had access to Western media and cable TV since early 2000s,” Abbasi continued, anticipating a lack of shock over the content from Iranian audiences. “And also the internet. It’s not like nobody has seen half-naked pop stars. People are used to seeing Julia Roberts making out with George Clooney many times over. What they aren’t used to is seeing somebody like themselves making out with someone else like themselves in their own language, in a setting that reminds them of their own life, because that’s a mirror of their own reality. That’s really the transgressive element here that would not translate to a Western audience.”