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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Holy Spider Review: A Brutal Web Of Dogma & Patriarchal Violence

Holy Spider, post its Cannes premiere has been making noise across the globe. Major film outfits Utopia and Mubi have since acquired rights for the picture in America as well as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Latin America and Malaysia, respectively.

Directed by Ali Abbasi, it is based on the true story of Saeed Hanaei. A dreaded serial killer who targeted sex workers and killed 16 women from 2000 to 2001 in Mashhad, Iran. A journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) descends into the dark underbelly of the Iranian holy city as she investigates the serial killings of prostitutes by the so-called Spider Killer (Mehdi Bajestani) who believes he is cleansing the streets of ‘sinners’.

Unlike the conventional cat-and-mouse chase, Abbasi captures the gloomy and archaic conditions of the city. The atmospheric sound of ongoing traffic accompanied by shaky camera shots, develop a sentiment of uneasiness among the audience.

There is constant action on celluloid, which never allows our attention to shift. From the bustling city streets to the open space, where bodies are dumped, these geographies represent the killer’s mindset as well as the veiling of society. He is constantly on the prowl and his orbiting thoughts represent his moves. Places of worship also act as silent witnesses, who observe the mishaps occurring in their world.

From the onset, the camera follows a prostitute who goes about her gritty day. From a palatial house where she is paid for sex to performing oral in a car, these scenes set the raw premise. Not only is the portrayal authentic, but also very brutal to observe.

The filmmaker leaves no stone unturned when it comes to depicting violence and patriarchal slurs. But as horrific as they are, these atrocities still continue today. Only a glance at instances like the murders of Mahsa Amini in Iran and Sarah Everard in the UK or Ankita Kumari in India highlight the plight of women in contemporary times. It is terrifying.

Sequences of slaughters and stalking are horrific to observe, which deeply rattles one from within. As time progresses, the picture feels like a noose tightening around the neck. The movie is showcased through the lens of women, as an intense ‘thriller’ style. However, fades towards the second half.

The narrative then delves into an eye-opening expose of a corrupt and hypocritical socio-political state. The pace slows during the latter part where it almost becomes stretched. Nonetheless, marvellous performances by Ebrahimi and Bajestani are compelling. Plus, the conclusion is sufficient to leave one flustered as to how the ‘web’ of evil continues to spin in our society.

Holy Spider is among the rare films which haunt you after the credits roll. It is intense but very relevant to the turbulent times we are living in. A must-watch!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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