Holy Spider

Fact-based thriller by Ali Abbasi (Gräns) about the investigation into a series of murders of prostitutes in Iran’s holiest city, Mashhad.

Please note that this film is in Persian, with Dutch subtitles.
Time & Tickets

In the light of day, Saeed is a worker, doting family man, veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, and a devout Shia Muslim. He appears to live simply with his wife Fatima and two children in the exalted north-eastern city of Mashhad, known as the spiritual capital of Iran. But by night, Saeed cruises his hometown’s seedy alleyways by motorcycle on a ‘holy’ crusade to cleanse his nation of immorality. As part of his quest, he lures unwitting sex workers to their deaths and dumps their bodies, acts that come to feed a growing media frenzy. With no end in sight to the slayings, a Tehran-based journalist, Rahimi, played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who won Best Actress at Cannes 2022, arrives on the scene, determined to uncover the killer’s identity. Soon, a dangerous cat-and-mouse-game is underway, where each player’s and onlooker’s own interpretation of justice casts a unique prism of doubt.

Iran-born, Denmark-based director Ali Abbasi based his chilling co-written script on true events: in Mashhad between 2000 and 2001, 16 sex workers were brutally murdered. His meticulously premeditated storytelling lends ample screen time – including graphic murder scenes – to the women whose lives were stolen, simultaneously weaving a stark commentary on a society that righteously reveres its heroes while cementing age-old patterns of misogyny. (source:

Ali Abbasi, Denemark, Germany, Sweden, France, 2022, 116 min. Farsi spoken, Dutch subtitles. With Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, Mehdi Bajestani, Arash Ashtiani, Forouzan Jamshidnejad, Sina Parvaneh.

Abbasi's previous film GRÄNS already showed that the director's work does not necessarily hold a clear-cut message. In the case of HOLY SPIDER he emphatically shows how the murders of character Hanaei are linked to religiously inspired misogyny. In doing so, Abbasi accuses Iranian society of complicity in the murders - a message that, although the film is set in 2000 and 2001, is extremely timely, looking at the protests that were sparked by the murder of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested by morality police in Tehran on 13 September for allegedly violating Iran's strict rules requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf.

Evidently Abbasi denounces this culture of misogyny, but there's more to HOLY SPIDER. "Misogyny has deep cultural roots in Iran. That was true before the 1979 revolution, after the revolution it was still true, it continues to this day. But Iran, oddly enough, is also a country where more women are in higher education than men and where women can also be doctors or parliamentarians. Iran is a complex country. The image of a backward culture in Western media is often far too simplistic."