THE OPENING SCENE of Holy Spider is brutal. We see a woman — a sex worker — leave her child at home to go to work. Walking through Iran’s holy city of Mashhad, she stops at a public restroom to adjust her headscarf and apply bold lipstick. She goes on her first call of the night and does some opium. As she prepares to go home, a man approaches on a motorcycle. He offers her money. She joins him. Shortly after arriving at their destination, he strangles her.
Writer-director Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider is a fictionalized account of Saeed Hanaei, known as the Spider Killer, who targeted female sex workers in Mashhad from 2000 to 2001. The film, which premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, examines the killer’s life and the process of capturing him, led by (fictionalized) female journalist Arezoo Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi).