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#TIFF22 Review: Holy Spider (Special Presentations)

September 13, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

Filmmaker Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider is an Iranian serial killer thriller that works as a tense game of cat and mouse between a murderer and a journalist, while also morphing into a piece of equally disturbing social commentary on how women are viewed in a theocratic society.

Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) is a journalist who arrives in the city of Mashad to investigate the deaths of several sex workers by an errant serial killer. Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani) is a family man who works in construction and is beloved in his community, with a wife (Forouzan Jamshidnejad) and two kids at home. But at night, he sneaks out to pick up prostitutes on the street, taking them back to his apartment and strangling them to death with their headscarves, believing that he is waging holy war by murdering these “corrupt” women and cleaning up the spiritual capitol city.

As you can tell from this plot outline, Holy Spider is a very dark and disturbing film. It draws us in with its deeply unsettling atmosphere, as Abassi stages several tension-filled sequences following Saeed as he stalks his victims. The film is further heightened by Martin Dirkov’s pounding musical score, and equally strong cinematography by Nadim Carlsen, including some captivating images of the city at night.

Ebrahimi, who won Best Actress at Cannes for the role, is compelling to watch as a journalist willing to risk everything to bring a killer to justice and save the lives of other women. Bajestani delivers haunting, darkly mesmerizing work as a serial killer seeking a sense of purpose who believes with every fibre of his being that his actions, no matter how reprehensible, are morally just simply because of who his victims are. The result is a chilling, provocative, and skillfully crafted film that builds to an impossible to shake final scene.

Public Screenings:

Tuesday, September 13th – 9:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Wednesday, September 14th – 3:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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