Ali Abbasi’s ‘Holy Spider’ follows the story of a string of murders of female sex workers in the streets of the Iranian holy city of Mashhad. The movie alternates between the perspectives of a serial killer dubbed “Spider Killer,” his victims, and a journalist, Arezoo Rahimi, who is investigating the case. Based on the true story of Saeed Hanaei, the movie depicts the struggle of sex workers in Mashhad as Saeed, an extremist, goes on a violent crusade against them. Half of the film revolves around the string of murders committed by Saeed alongside Rahimi’s investigation, while the other half focuses on the court trial held after Saeed’s arrest. Before his arrest, Saeed succeeds in killing a total of 16 women, and his exploits become local news. The man behind these murders is referred to as the “Spider Killer” by the people. This crime thriller film derives inspiration for its title from the criminal that it bases its story around. However, what exactly is the significance behind the title, ‘Holy Spider?’ Here’s everything you need to know about it. SPOILERS AHEAD!
What is the Meaning of Holy Spider Title?
The term “Spider Killer” is used in relation to the film’s antagonist, Saeed Azimi. Azimi’s violent actions have been going on long before Arezoo Rahimi shows up on the scene to write her investigative piece on them. As such, his serial killings have already received other media and public attention. While talking about the killings, people have taken to referring to the faceless man behind those crimes as “The Spider Killer.” Azimi is assigned this tag because of his signature as a killer.
Azimi targets female sex workers and kills them by strangling them with their headscarves. After their deaths, he ties the scarf around the victim’s neck twice and dumps their bodies at random places. Afterward, Azimi calls the editorial director, Sharifi, and informs him of the bodies’ locations. The method with which he chooses to kill his victims is reminiscent of a spider. The way he lures his victims into his apartment and then chokes them to death is akin to how a spider sets up a trap for its prey. Based on a real-life serial killer Azimi shares this detail with his non-fictional counterpart, Saeed Hanaei.
Furthermore, Azimi’s violent actions are born from the ideology he associates with his religion. Azimi was of the opinion that by murdering these women, he was “cleansing his city” of sin and decadence. Azimi considers the fact that some women of Mashhad had to resort to prostitution as a way of survival a moral failing on the women’s part. In the same vein, the sex workers’ addiction to opium and other drugs is also a reason behind Azimi’s hatred of them. Therefore, according to him, these women must be punished by his own hands.
There is also a desire for martyrdom born from his beliefs that acts as a driving force behind Azimi’s violent campaign against the sex workers of Mashhad. Azimi is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War and carries a sense of failure with him for not losing his life for his people like many others had. He is desperate for a sense of purpose that would feed his aggressive and violent desires.
The religious drive behind Azimi’s actions became a significant part of his story. Azimi garnered overwhelming support and even praise from the masses during his court trials. People who shared the same worldview as Azimi argued that what Azimi had done was not only excusable but morally righteous. They even go as far as to hail him a hero. At multiple points in his trial, the public’s extensive and vocal support for Azimi instills a deep sense of doubt regarding his fate within Rahimi and, consequently, the viewers. Due to the religious connections behind these murders, the system seems rigged against the victims since the beginning.
The investigation conducted by the police regarding the Spider Killings is often lackluster and ineffective. Meanwhile, when Rahimi decides to conduct her own investigation, she manages to find the Killer’s identity fairly quickly by putting her own life at risk. Thus, showcasing the police investigation’s neglect on account of the fact that Azimi’s case is religious in nature. These inherent ties between the Spider Killer and his religious background lend the film its title, ‘Holy Spider.’ It references the killer at the center of its narrative. At the same time, it also highlights his religious beliefs that serve as his motive and, at times, his salvation as well.
Read More: Holy Spider Ending, Explained: How Was the Killer Caught?