If the first half of the film shies away from the cheap thrills of its serial killer story, the pointed banality of its final chapters proves as horrifying this genre ever gets.
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Overall it seems Abbasi got caught between the social righteousness dictates of the “message movie” and pure amorality of what, disturbingly so, often makes for great genre cinema.
Abbasi has made an Iranian noir which, even though it dares to poke around the spiritual capital of Iran with its largest mosque in the world, isn’t an assault on the Iranian government per se, but a crime thriller which shows how far fundamentalist morality can be twisted and how banal the face of evil really is.
As a straight-forward thriller, Holy Spider checks off all the boxes that make it an intriguing watch: it maintains a tense tone and has a gripping plot, it transforms into a courtroom drama halfway into its run, and features gritty and stylish visuals.
It’s far from subtle filmmaking, but Holy Spider is equal parts gripping and disturbing, and not always for the squeamish.
An intense and gripping dramatization that, a few liberties apart, does justice to a disturbing true story.
Abbasi undoubtedly conveys the brutal attitudes which create victimhood.
Abbasi offered a brilliantly leftfield perspective on immigration and otherness with his 2018 debut Border, and his follow-up takes no prisoners in his critique of Iranian society’s built-in misogyny and fake piety.
Holy Spider shines a light into the murky corners of a society that emboldens its aggressors. In that sense, the film is essential viewing. Even if it is completely devastating.
It’s profoundly compelling, expertly made, and quite intentionally horrifying.