Sunday 12 March 2023

Holy Spider (2022)

I don't see many films from Iran, but here's one from director Ali Abbasi which is really rather well done. Supposedly based on a true story from 2000 where, in the city of Mashhad, a serial killer is on the loose. I did watch and enjoy Ballad of a White Cow (2021) and the vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), so this'll be my third.

Dubbed 'the holy' city, it seems that everyone who lives there is very religious and lives by the rules laid out within that structure. One man decides that in order to further his cause and belief, ladies who are earning money in the city by prostitution need to be eradicated - and that it is the will of a higher power that he should do this. We start to follow this man, so it's clear from early-on in the film who it is and what he's doing. He's pretending to be a customer, gets them back to his place, strangles them with their own headscarf then dumps their bodies in an out-of-city location. All this, on his motorbike.

We also spend time with him as a family man, raising 3 kids and providing for his wife and family by means of a building job. So he's physically fairly fit in order to carry out his nocturnal activities on the nights that his wife and kids spend with relatives. He comes across mainly as a good family provider and shows dedication to the unit.

So, the bodies are piling up and the press have named the serial killer the Spider Killer. It all feels like a religion-driven version of Jack, or the Yorkshire Ripper. Our central character, Saeed, is clearly convinced that he is doing the right, moral thing and that his actions are justified. He also knows, however, that it needs to be kept under wraps as, justified as he thinks he is, those around him, including the press and law-makers of the land would see it differently and he'd face their justice.

Enter Rahimi, a journalist who has arrived in the city in order to report on the story and, as things unfold amongst a regime which doesn't seem that keen to stop what's going on, place herself upfront and central as bait in a risky virtual sole attempt to catch the killer. She's got unfairly-inflicted baggage from her past into the bargain and when people locally find out about that, they are less welcoming of her intervention, even as a reporter.

What eventually gets exposed here is not so much the killer and his deeds, but the regime, the system and the way in which 'in the name of religion' hideous deeds may be attempted to be swept under the carpet by the government, authorities and local press. The culture and climate are presented as all-powerful, injecting fear into the population - and only shifting from the path it's leaders want to follow where public outcry and international pressure through the press is brought to bear.

I don't know any of the actors, but they all seem to carry it well, are convincing in their roles and while they tell the story for us, the film offers us a broader picture about the situation people find themselves in when trying to fight the system that they think is wrong, creating unjustified outcomes. It's also quite graphic at times, with convincing close-up views of Saeed choking the life out of these defenceless women as he 'cleans up the streets'. I won't tell you the outcome, but there are some twists and turns along the way as we edge closer to finding out whether or not justice is done.

The production values are not the best and some of the handheld camerawork a little dodgy at times, but it's pulled together well and makes the points it sets out to do. I caught this on Mubi and, well, it seems to be the only way one can see it in the UK. Recommended.

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