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Reform Magazine | April 23, 2024

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Reviews February 2023 - Reform Magazine

Reviews February 2023

In God’s name

Holy Spider
Directed by Ali Abassi
Certificate 18, 116 minutes
Released 20 January (UK cinemas), 10 March (MUBI)

The year 2000. The Holy City of Mashhad, Iran. Prostitutes are being targeted by a killer who is justifying his crimes with Islamic rhetoric. With the notable exception of her editor Sahrifi (Arash Ashtiani), the journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) investigating the case encounters sexism wherever she goes, and it’s hard not to draw parallels between these everyday attitudes of men towards most women and the atrocities being inflicted on a small number of them on the social margins.

A number of the killings are shown, in unpleasant detail, and are difficult to watch. (This film is an 18 for a reason.) The director Ali Abassi (Border, reviewed in March 2019) cleverly introduces us to the women who are going to become victims, so that as the murders take place, we really feel for them.

Yet Abassi is interested in the character of the murderer too. What makes him tick? Why would he commit such appalling crimes? How would he justify such things in his head? How would he live with himself? At first glance, the answer would appear to relate to religion (specifically Islam), but perhaps it has more to do with attitudes of (some) men towards women. Terrifyingly, the killer in this instance appears otherwise to be a model husband who is widely regarded as a paragon of virtue.

Much of the time, the film follows the investigative journalist template, wherein the tension derives from whether the heroine will manage to find and expose the victim by acting as bait, and whether she will manage to stay alive in the process. However, it periodically shifts to the killer being the central character. When he’s first seen committing murder, he’s the assailant, yet as the narrative progresses, and we’re intermittently invited to identify with him, the experience becomes far more disturbing.

As a crime movie, this is absolutely peerless. However, that achievement almost seems to pale beside the picture it conjures of Iranian social life two decades ago from a woman’s point of view and the urgently relevant questions it asks about that country’s understanding and working out of a distinctly patriarchal view of Islam.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His website is


The heart of the matter

Jonny Gumbel
Muddy Pearl Publishing
ISBN 9781914553127

Based on sermons preached over the space of three years by Jonny Gumbel (who is the son of the founder of the Alpha course, Nicky Gumbel) at St Peter’s Church, Brighton, Loved looks at the subject of God’s love for us through the lens of the New Testament book of Romans. Gumbel really explores the length, width, height and depth of God’s love for us, and shows how God’s love should change everything in our lives. Gumbel looks at how God’s love should be our identity, our power, our freedom, our security, and our everything….

Matt Stone is a United Reformed Church minister in Rotherham and Doncaster, and Chair of GEAR, the Group for Evangelism and Renewal in the URC


Racism revealed

Talking to Children about Race: Your guide for raising anti-racist kids
Loretta Andrews and Ruth Hill
ISBN 978-0-281-08682-5

Written following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, this book is a response to many white people ‘waking up’ to racism and starting to recognise a need be educated on the subject and learn to move towards living anti-racist lives…

Liz Kam is Church-Related Community Worker in Levenshulme, Manchester


Into a dark place

Godforsaken: The cross – the greatest hope of all
Stephen Cottrell
Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN 978-1-399-80524-7

In this slim, highly readable Lent book, Stephen Cottrell unflinchingly listens to the last words of Jesus as they appear in Mark’s Gospel – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ – and invites the reader to journey with him in response to what he learns as he listens…

Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform



Messiah: Hope and salvation, the meaning of Handel’s masterpiece
Stephen Thornton
RSCM Press
ISBN: 9780854023349

Singers are communicators. In unison or harmony they are telling a story, proclaiming a message. Words are never a secondary concern. They come first…

David Jenkins is a member of Chapel-en-le-Frith Male Voice Choir in Derbyshire. He is also a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church


This is an extract from an article published in the February 2023 edition of Reform

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