Holy Spider

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

5/5 (1)

From the Iranian director Ali Abbasi (“Border”), known for difficult and confrontational work, “Holy Spider” is the true story of Saeed Hanaei, who murdered 16 women in Iran starting in the year 2000 because they were deemed by him to be “corrupt” and “worthless.” The film is both compelling and disturbing and it will magnetize you from the first frame.

Fear has gripped the city of Mashhad and the women of the area, young and old are terrified. Prostitutes of the city are turning up in empty fields. Each week the papers are more and more alarmed. Arezoo (Zahra Amir Ebrahimi) a reporter abhors the murders. She fears a cover up by the police and followers of Sharia law, and is driven to get to the killer.

The camera focuses of Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani) a devout Muslim and a quiet family man with two kids which he usually treats with affection.

It is known that the killer drives a motorcycle, and we see Saeed on his motorcycle driving along the square, almost reminiscent of Travis Bickle (De Niro) in “Taxi Driver.” Like Bickle, Saeed wants to rid the streets of the city’s corruption and “filth.”

One wonders how this supposedly mild mannered man can be driven to murdering prostitutes both young and old. Except that Saeed is not mild. In one shocking scene, the man loses his temper with his son, Ali (Mesbah Taleb) and moves as if to attack him.

With a rhythm very much like Hitchcock’s “Frenzy” (1972), we are privy to the day to day life of Saeed, going to prayer and then prowling the square for women. Like Richard Blaney in “Frenzy,” Saeed strangles women, but he uses headscarves instead of neckties. The killings are shocking and emotive. But to some Iranians, the man is held as a hero upholding a repellent version of fundamentalism. The moment by moment episodes are rife with tension and anxiety.

The film underscores the suffering of all: the murdered victims, the residents, the family and even the killer, driven psychotic by his zealotry.

There is one very creepy scene near the end of the film that recalls the work of Michael Haneke.

“Holy Spider” works both as a psychological thriller, and a searing indictment of fundamentalism. It takes a woman’s skill to catch a psychopath.

Write Ian at ianfree11@yahoo.com

Ratings & Comments