When we talk about cinematic serial killers, we usually think of the likes of Hannibal Lecter: charismatic sociopaths, individuals that are intellectually brilliant but utterly amoral, and whose killing usually follows some grand aesthetic design, making them queasy stand-ins for artists. Saeed Hanaei, the man who murdered sex workers in Mashhad, Iran in the years 2000 and 2001, isn’t that kind of serial killer, and Iranian director Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider isn’t that sort of film. In this month’s espresso episode, Alan and Matt talk about Abbasi’s film, which got an ambivalent reception when it came out at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022. Choosing to put more of a focus on the killer than on his victims, and staging the murders starkly, Holy Spider was accused of some of being exploitative – but how does a film go about depicting a series of killings in which an entire society is implicated responsibly and tactfully? Tune in to hear our duo’s take on Holy Spider, its depiction of violence against women and how Abbasi’s film uses a fictionalised journalist protagonist (played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi) to tell a story about, as the director puts it, “a serial killer society”.
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