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Danish-Iranian director Ali Abbasi’s boundary-pushing serial killer thriller “Holy Spider has been acquired by U.S. sales and distribution company Utopia for North America.

Based on a real Iranian crime case, “Holy Spider” – which made a major splash when it premiered in the Cannes competition on Sunday – is about a family man named Saeed (Mehdi Bajestani) who becomes a serial killer as he embarks on his own religious quest to “cleanse” the holy Iranian city of Mashhad of street prostitutes. 

Pic chronicles a killing spree in the streets of Mashhad, where 16 prostitutes were found dead from 2000 to 2001.  A local journalist, Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi), is trying to crack the case as she grows frustrated by the police’s apathy toward finding the murderer. But in one of many twists in this drama, the identity of the serial killer is revealed early on — he’s a war veteran, a seemingly normal family man who spends his nights picking up women on his motorcycle and brutally strangling them in his home as a religious cleansing ritual.

The film, which was shot in Jordan after being denied permission to shoot in Iran, features nudity, sex and graphic strangling scenes but not gratuitously or with an intent to provoke, simply as a way to depict events as they took place, the director has underlined.

Abbasi’s previous film “Border” won the top Un Certain Regard prize in Cannes 2018 and scored two Oscar nominations.

“Holy Spider,” which has been praised by critics, is produced by Sol Bondy and Jacob Jarek. Production companies are Profile Pictures and One Two Films, and the co-producers are Nordisk Film Production, Wild Bunch International, Film i Väst, Why Not Productions, ZDF/ARTE, and ARTE France Cinéma.

The deal was negotiated by Danielle DiGiacomo on behalf of Utopia and CAA Media Finance and Eva Diederix on behalf of Wild Bunch International. Abbasi is represented by CAA.

Utopia is owned by Robert Schwartzman and Cole Harper. The company’s recent titles include Independent Spirit Award winner “Shiva Baby” by Emma Seligman; Dasha Nekrasova’s Berlin  pic “The Scary Of Sixty-First;” and Cinema Eye Award winner “El Planeta” from Amalia Ulman.