Denmark, Germany, Sweden, France


A journalist descends into the dark underbelly of the Iranian holy city of Mashhad as she investigates the serial killings of sex workers by the so called "Spider Killer", who believes he is cleansing the streets of sinners.

Director's Statement

HOLY SPIDER is a film about the rise and fall of one of Iran’s most infamous serial killers: Saeed Hanaei. In a larger context, the film is a critique of Iranian society, as the killer is a very religious man and a well-respected citizen. I was still living in Iran in the beginning of 2000s when Saeed Hanaei was killing street prostitutes in the holy city of Mashhad. He managed to kill 16 women before he was caught and put on trial. It was during his trial that the story really caught my attention. In a normal world there is no doubt that a man who had killed 16 people would be seen as guilty. But here it was different: a portion of the public and the conservative media began to celebrate Hanaei as a hero. They upheld the idea that Hanaei simply had to fulfill his religious duty to clean the streets of the city by killing these ‘dirty’ women. This was when the idea of making this film came to me. My intention was not to make a serial killer movie. I wanted to make a movie about a serial killer society. It is about the deep-rooted misogyny within Iranian society, which is not specifically religious or political but cultural. Misogyny everywhere breeds through the habits of people. In Iran, we have a tradition of hatred towards women, and it often rears its ugly head. In Saeed Hanaei’s story this is present in its purest way. This makes it necessary to show different perspectives that demonstrate a range of opinions in Iranian society; those on his side and those who oppose him. Saeed Hanaei is both a victim and a criminal. As a soldier at the front of the Iran-Iraq war, he has given his youth to his country, to make it better and to give meaning to his own life. He then finds out that society doesn’t care about him, that his sacrifices during the war didn’t change anything. He exists in an existential vacuum, in spite of his belief in God. Saeed goes to the mosque and cries in the house of God. He finds a new mission, a mission for Allah. HOLY SPIDER is not intended to make political points against the Iranian government. It is not another critique of corrupt societies in the Middle East. The dehumanization of groups of people, especially women, is not unique to Iran but can be found, in different variations, in all corners of the world. I see the movie as a specific story about specific characters, and not a “theme” movie about certain social problems. We don’t want to let Saeed’s story and persona saturate the film. Instead of making another movie about different ways a man can kill and mutilate women, we want to underline the complexity of the issue and the stakes on different sides, especially on behalf of the victims. Rahimi’s story is as important as Saeed’s. I want to get close to her and understand how she deals with conflicts within herself, with her family, and society while she follows the case. Hanaei’s victims were not generic street women, they were individuals with their own personalities, and we hope to restore a part of their dignity and humanity that was taken from them. Not as saints, not as unfortunate victims, but as human beings, like all of us.

Director's Biography

Ali Abbasi is a writer and director. He was born 1981 in Iran and left his studies in Tehran to move to Stockholm, where he graduated with a BA in architecture. He then studied directing at the National Film School of Denmark, graduating with his short film M FOR MARKUS in 2011. His feature debut, SHELLEY premiered at the Berlinale in 2016 and was released in the US. He is best known for his 2018 film BORDER, which premiered in Cannes, where it won the Prix Un Certain Regard. The film was chosen as Sweden’s Academy Award® Entry, was widely released internationally, won the Danish Film Award and was nominated for three European Film Awards including European Director, European Screenwriter and European Film. He is currently shooting the TV adaptation of THE LAST OF US for HBO in Canada.

2018 - BORDER, Feature
2016 - SHELLY, Feature

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Ali Abbasi

Written by: Ali Abbasi, Afshin Kamran Bahrami

Produced by: Sol Bondy, Jacob Jarek

Cinematography: Nadim Carlsen

Editing: Olivia Neergaard-Holm

Production Design: Lina Nordqvist

Costume Design: Hanadi Khurma

Make-Up & Hair: Farah Jadaane

Original Score: Martin Dirkov

Sound: Rasmus Winther Jensen, Georg Hackenberg, Lajos Wienkamp Marques, Gregor Bonse

Visual Effects: Peter Hjorth, Jörundur Rafn Arnarson

Casting: Zar Amir Ebrahimi

Cast: Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Rahimi), Mehdi Bajestani (Saeed), Arash Ashtiani (Sharifi), Forouzan Jamshidnejad (Fatima), Sina Parvaneh (Rostami), Mesbah Taleb (Ali), Alice Rahimi (Somayeh), Sara Fazilat (Zinab), Nima Akbarpour (Judge)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Film 2022
  • European Director 2022
  • European Actress 2022
  • European Screenwriter 2022
  • Feature Film Selection 2022