The Iran-born, Denmark-based filmmaker Ali Abbasi made waves in 2018 for his eccentric political fantasy romance, Border. He returns with something very different, an extremely graphic true crime saga whose persistent focus on squalor and degradation connect it to a certain tendency in hardcore horror films of the 1970s and ’80s.
Working in an intriguing metaphor about religious fundamentalism employed as an excuse for fascistic social cleansing, it sees Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) rolling into the city of Mashhad to investigate a rash of sex worker murders. As she goes about her investigations, Abbasi allows us to monitor the parallel comings, goings and slayings of Saeed Hanaei (Mehdi Bajestani), a hen-pecked family man nicknamed “Spider Killer” in the media. The film excels in nasty generic thrills, even if there are some fictional elements of the story which undermine its apparent allyship to the victims.
Rahimi’s plan to ensnare the beast is high-risk enough to have us watching through clenched fingers, especially as we’ve repeatedly witnessed how brutal Hanaei can be. It’s a difficult watch, not least because Abbasi appears to be lavishing in the same visceral violence he purports to decry, and his conception of the apparently repulsive lives of sex workers appears to mirror that of the killer. It’s trashy and hyperbolic, put together with no small amount of brio, but doesn’t appear to serve much purpose, in the serial killer canon or otherwise.
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Intrigued to see how Ali Abbasi follows up his very odd and eccentric Border from 2018.
This is a repellent film in many ways, but its maker appears to be very conscious of that fact.
Trying to be objective here, but this will likely be a love/loathe prospect for many.
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