According to a review in The Hollywood Reporter, the film "bypasses the indirect allegorical style of Rasoulof’s past work to mount a sustained attack on state corruption, violence and censorship in modern-day Iran."
The Reporter review suggests the film may be inspired by the so-called “Chain Murders” of more than 80 Iranian writers, intellectuals, political activists and ordinary citizens between 1988 and 1998. All had been critical of the Islamic Republic. "Among the alleged perpetrators accused by human rights groups were Mostafa Pour Mohammadi and Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ezhei, who later became President Ahmadinejad’s interior and intelligence ministers respectively. This is emphatically not a film that will please the current regime."
The Variety review also suggests that Rasoulof's thriller is an overt critique of authoritarianism and censorship, calling it is "perhaps the first film since the declaration of the Islamic Republic to confront so directly the brutality of the feared security apparatus."Reportedly shot in Germany and exteriors in Iran, the film was cast supposedly with expat Iranians living in Europe. According to Variety, Rasoulof has been living between Tehran and Hamburg, Germany. One suspects he will stay in Europe for the time being.