#TIFF22: “HOLY SPIDER”
By David Baldwin
A serial killer believes he is cleansing the streets of corruption in the Iranian holy city Mashhad. His victims? Female sex workers and drug addicts who are all too willing to jump on the back of his motorbike when they see the cash he is carrying. Enter female Journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi), who is determined to investigate and uncover the identity of the killer before he has a chance to kill again. At the same time, we follow Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani), a blue-collar worker and war vet who is trying to do right by his family. Saeed also happens to be the killer.
That hook is what instantly drew me into the sordid web of HOLY SPIDER. Director/Co-Writer Ali Abbasi (who previously directed the Oscar-nominated Border) has crafted a film that takes no prisoners with its unrelenting intensity and is absolutely fearless when it comes to its depiction of misogyny and sexual violence (all inspired by a true story from the early 2000s). There are some genuinely disturbing and unsettling moments in this film that continue to sit with me – most related to the brutal ways Saeed murders his victims. If that sounds like a lot, that is because it is. Abbasi knows exactly how to get under the audience’s skin, and he revels in how vicious and unsettling he can make each scene more than the last.
Speaking of unsettling, we need to talk about Bajestani. The Actor is pure evil incarnate, reprehensibly twisting his cadence, vocabulary and body language at will. He delicately balances both of Saeed’s personas and watching him let loose in anger is more than enough reason for your bones to shake. Amir-Ebrahimi is just as terrific, precisely portraying the Journalist who will go to truly unconventional means in order to take this monster down. She reminded me a lot of Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs in how the male characters treat, dehumanize and underestimate her. It is brilliant, unfiltered work that was rightfully awarded the Best Actress award at Cannes back in May. She captures your gaze right from the start and it is incredibly difficult to look away from her afterwards.
And without getting too far into spoiler territory, I will note how revolting the ending is. In a film filled to the brim with disgusting, deplorable imagery, this extended bit is certainly going to sear into your brain.
HOLY SPIDER screens as follows at TIFF ’22:
Tue, Sep 13 IN-PERSON TIFF Bell Lightbox 9:45pm
Wed, Sep 14 IN-PERSON TIFF Bell Lightbox 3:00pm