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Holy Spider—A Web of Horror and Mayhem

 Holy Spider, based on a true story and a graphic novel, retells the harrowing battle of a fearless woman journalist, Rahimi (Cannes Film festival award winner for best actress, Zar Amir- Ebrahimi) who investigates a brutal murderer nicknamed “Spider Killer”.   Sixteen young prostitutes  in the religiously conservative Iranian town of Mashhad City have each been dumped into a field.   

A fanatical psychopath on a religious mission to “cleanse” the streets of sex workers, middle-aged Saeed, is a construction worker and war veteran. He   becomes a vigilante who stalks young, desperate women who are terrified every time they have sex.  Leading a compartmentalized, double life in which he has a doting beautiful (younger) wife and three small children, Saeed  considers himself above secular law.   Clerics, the “morality” police, and judges support him and sanction his duplicitous, murderous acts as a righteous fatwa against  the worthless and depraved women who sell their bodies to buy drugs.

Enter Rahimi, an almost unbelievably brave newspaper reporter determined to break the series of murders.  She herself is already “damaged” and suspect because she left a previous newspaper job, due to sexual harassment.  Law enforcement and the judicial system blame the victim and treat her like a “slut”.

But Rahimi prevails at great risk to herself, and with the unshakeable backup of her newspaper editor, seemingly her only ally.  A deeply disturbing film which eviscerates the underbelly of religious fanaticism, corrosive hatred of women, denial of societal injustice, and dysfunctional family ties, Holy Spider is a masterpiece.  This film entails a  never-ending discomfort: one gut punch after another,   a cataract clouding the ignominious inhumanity that is a pestilence in any society.

Superb acting, particularly by Zar Amir-Ebrahimi who won multiple international awards for this performance.  While Holy Spider would have been even better with more backstory on the two main characters, the flaws are outweighed by a highly unusual film in a cultural setting both revealing and profoundly upsetting.  Definitely exhausting and unnerving to watch!  An unforgettable experience.

Availability:  Netflix streaming

Note: Perhaps the most frightening facts about Holy Spider are its historical basis in fact: on the life of the actual Spider Killer and on the chilling interview in the final scene with Saeed’s young son, taken from actual footage.   

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