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TIFF 2022 Review: Holy Spider -“There is a clinical approach to the film-making”

A serial killer is targeting prostitutes in Iran’s spiritual capital of Mashhad and a journalist is determined to bring him to justice.

A family patriarch and businessman during the day and a cleanser of vices at night by murdering prostitutes.  This is the world of Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani) who regularly communicates over the phone with the local crime reporter about his mission and where the results of his exalted efforts can be found.  Even though the police seem to be less than fully committed to finding the perpetrator and a recruited journalist played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi is determined to have justice to prevail to the point that she is willing to risk her own life.

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There is a back and forth as both killer and his pursuer face obstacles in completing their designated jobs.  The most chilling moment does not feature in one of the killing scenes but the law enforcement officer oozing malevolence as he talks to the female journalist in her hotel room.  The trial and public reaction are part of the narrative which puts the societal acceptance of violence against women in the spotlight.

There is a funny macabre moment when one of the victims might be more difficult to kill than initially thought.  The colour palette recalls Seven but not quite the same daring verve.  There is a clinical approach to the filmmaking by Ali Abbasi that efficiently tells the story but feels conventional.  The ending is a messy conclusion that is realistic but hardly shocking but the reaction of the little girl is priceless.

The 47th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8-18, 2022, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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