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Blu-Ray Review: Utopia’s Holy Spider (Collector’s Edition) 

Holy Spider

The dark, angry, and haunting Holy Spider is one of the best Films released in recent memory.  New to Blu-Ray from Utopia.  

The Film 

Note: Holy Spider depicts graphic acts of sex work and violence toward women.  

The short version is this.  You need to see Ali Abbasi’s staggeringly dark Holy Spider.  It isn’t just a great film but an important one.  

The longer version is this…  

Holy Spider is a dark and unrelenting masterwork of tension and unease.  As complex, haunting, humane, and politically Kafka-esque as Bong Joon-ho’s neo-classic Memories of Murder.  From its opening moments to its unforgettable ending Holy Spider is a clear-eyed critique of a male-dominated society that has turned into an Authoritative Regime. One that systematically fails its female population so badly that it allows a serial killer to murder 16 women.

As female Journalist Arezoo Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) begins to chase this story and actively hunt this serial killer it is that systematic harassment that she must also contend with.  The Terran-based journalist enters the Holy City of Mashhad and is instantly besieged by harassment.  Sexual, political, journalistic, economical, anything you can imagine Rahimi is subjected to.  All while pushing to find the serial killer that everyone seems to be apathetic towards, but no one is actively attempting to catch.  

The film uses the conventions of the serial killer genre and true-life crime to set the stage for something altogether different.  Abbasi’s film also follows the serial killer Saeed Hanaei (Mehdi Bajestani) as he hunts the sex workers he eventually murders.  These scenes are some of the most harrowing and tense in recent memory.  Abbasi and cinematographer Nadim Carlsen shoot these with a documentary realism that removes all of the more exploitative aspects of these murders – leaving something not only disturbing but sad.

Those moments are not just fodder for the audience, but Abbasi uses this as the fuel for your anger as the film begins to show its true nature.  Holy Spider understands justice can never be serviced in a dictatorship.  Especially if your dictatorship is oppressively male-dominated and the crimes are related to female sex workers.  This is where Holy Spider truly elevates itself beyond the run-of-the-mill crime thriller.  It is where you feel anger, as you should, for not just the victims but for the cycle of violence (towards women) that a regime like this can create. 

Holy Spider is the type of devastating critique of the world not just one society.  One where behavior is passed down from generation to generation like a virus.  One where religious morals are confused with justified violence.  In those universal terms, Abbasi’s film is a savage indictment of not just one country but all of us.  A mirror to the darker parts of our souls.  A mirror that we rarely and so effectively get in film.  One that seems to be urgently required in our current times.  

The Transfer

The transfer is a wonderful presentation of this digitally shot film.  The image is at the very edge of what is possible with the Blu-Ray format.  The razor-sharp image has zero defects or issues.  Color reproduction, contrast, and black levels are nearly flawless. 

The Extras

They include the following;

  • Q&A with Ali Abbasi, moderated by Ana Lily Amirpour
  • Q&A with moderator Reza Safai at Laemmle Town Center
  • Q&A at IFC Center with Ali Abbasi
  • Interview with Director Ali Abbasi
  • Interview with Producer Jacob Jarek
  • Interview with Actor Mehdi Bajestani
  • Interview with Producer Sol Bondy
  • Interview with Actor Zar Amir-Ebrahimi.

Q&A with Ali Abbasi, moderated by Ana Lily Amirpour (23:26) – This interview conducted via Zoom with Abbasi and Amirpour begins with a discussion of both of them being of Iranian descent and how they both film about the state of their country as the film is released.  Some of the details include the context of the dark and unrelenting oppressive tone that permeates through Holy Spider and how it relates to being an Iranian; the portrayal of the types of characters that are never seen on screen in Iranian culture; the moral complexities of the piece and how they relate to not just Iran but the world large; a discussion of the killer and his life and why they showed those complexities and empathetic look in the film – making the film even more terrifying; a discussion of casting and the work of Mehdi Bajestani – this leads to a larger discussion about him being exiled out of Iran and the personal responsibility Abbasi feels towards Bajestani; a discussion of how Zar Amir-Ebrahimi came to be in the film – a larger discussion of her personal history; and much more.  

Q&A with moderator Reza Safai at Laemmle Town Center (40:34) – begins with the current state of Iran before they begin this great Q&A with actor Zar Amir-Ebrahimi.  Some of the details include Amir-Ebrahimi’s winning Best Actress at Cannes; the documentary that started the interest in the true life story; the true life story itself; the larger themes and how they relate to her own experiences; the real-life journalist that she portrays in the film; the reaction to the film – the brutality and how it compares to the real-life abuses that women go through in Iran – including her own experiences; and much more.  

Q&A at IFC Center with Ali Abbasi (38:53) – In this Q&A with David Ehrlich moderating begins with Abbasi recounting the real-life events as he was in Iran at the time, they were happening in the early 2000s.  Some of the other details include what was happening at the time when his family immigrated from Iran; the adjustments made about the real-life story and what was embellished for the film; his points of view on realism and wanting to be fair and accurate portrayal of Iran as compared to other movies made by major studio films; his account of how the bureaucracy worked in Iran when they attempted to make the film in the country; the troubles in Iran at the time of release and his thoughts on them; and much more.  

Interview with Director Ali Abbasi (27:50) – In this all-new interview with Abbasi discusses how he wasn’t in Cannes for its premiere.  Some of the details include just how challenging the production was and facing authoritarian governments, COVID, budget problems, and much more; the work and personal story of actor Zar Amir-Ebrahimi – whom he considers ‘a partner in crime’; how he feels the conditions informed the film itself; how the true life events in formed on his points of view on Iran as an Iranian living outside of Iran; what inspires him to make a film as it relates to Holy Spider and other films; his hopes if one likes Holy Spider; his discussion about the various hot button items that are present in the film and his hope; the influence of Film Noir and German Expressionism on Holy Spider and his style; his theories on casting and how they applied here; the work of Mehdi Bajestani; the work of Zar Amir-Ebrahimi; working with both actor how different they approach their craft; and much more.  

Interview with Producer Jacob Jarek (20:19) – In this all-new interview with Jarek opens with a discussion of his experience when the film premiered at Cannes.  Some of the other details include why Abbasi chose this true-life story and how they got financing – and how The Border became the lightning rod for this production; the influence of COVID; bringing in Bondy as a full fledge producer (see Bondy’s interview for more details about this); the trickiness of casting and production because it was an Iranian based story and how this effected production; the lead female actor dropping out (also see Zar Amir-Ebrahimi’s interview for another point of view) and casting Zar Amir-Ebrahim; a discussion of the “Danish footprint”; a discussion of the real-life events that occurred in Iran that were the basis for the film; details of going from Iran to Jordan to Turkey back to Jordan trying to find a suitable location where they could film without political pressure; filming during COVID – how that impacted the film’s production; and much more. 

Interview with Actor Mehdi Bajestani (8:37) – Unfortunately, the interview is in Farsi but does not come with subtitles nor is there a translator during his interview.  

Interview with Producer Sol Bondy (17:14) – In this all-new interview Bondy begins with how his role began as a co-producer and post-production Producer/Supervisor and it changed to full-on Producer.  Some of the other details include how COVID changed his role and how that evolved; how they ended up in Jordan because of the issues they faced in Turkey; the technical issues they faced during the production in Jordan; how the film’s behind the scene crew were Danish and also funded in part by Danish – which it also was 2022’s entry for the Academy Awards; the true life events the film was based off of in Iran; the themes of the film; and much more.  

Interview with Actor Zar Amir-Ebrahimi (26:46) – In this all-new interview with actor Zar Amir-Ebrahimi begins with her original duties as a Casting Director in Iran.  Some of the details include the casting process for the film; the casting of the lead who eventually quit; how she was cast in the film by Abbasi; the importance of telling this story about a female journalist, the topic of harassment that’s ever-present in the film and how true-to-life it is in Iran; how she worked as not only as an actor but how she got her Associate Producer credit as well; how Abbasi approached directing actors on set; the work of Mehdi Bajestani and watching him work and working with him; working on the fight scene between her and Bjestani; how Abbasi wanted to shoot Iran but wasn’t able to – but how this was beneficial to the production moving to Jordan; and much more.  Amir-Ebrahim interview is a wonderfully informative and intelligent look at making this very special film.  

The Final Thought 

Utopia has created a great edition of Holy Spider filled with special features.  Highest Possible Recommendations!!! 

Utopia’s Blu-Ray edition of Holy Spider is out now 

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