Studio: IFC Films
Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Antonio Campos, Brady Corbet, Mati Diop
Producer: Josh Mond, Sean Durkin, Matt Palmieri
Stars: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Lila Salet, Solo, Michael Abiteboul
Recovering from a broken relationship, an expatriate in Paris indulges in his dark side after becoming involved with a paid escort.
Faces of villainy are easy to recognize when they bear a visage like Charles Manson, with a wild beard and a swastika tattoo branded between even wilder eyes. The frightening truth about madmen, murderers, and sociopaths is that they more often than not resemble Brady Corbet’s Simon. Milling amidst any average metropolis are scores of contemptible people whose crimes go unnoticed because in reality, the dead giveaways of mania in the eyes of a Son of Sam or a Night Stalker are not as readily apparent in everyday neighbors, friends, and passersby.
Were it not for the latter half of the film’s title offering a portent of revelations to come, a viewer coming in blind would find “Simon Killer” moving well past its apex before coming clean about its true nature, much like the main character himself. Recently displaced from a five-year relationship with the love of his life, Simon exchanges his painful post-college life in New York City to go on something of a meditative walkabout in Paris, France.
“Simon Killer” depicts the lonely existence of an expatriate reeling from heartache and wallowing in the throes of aimless depression. It is an entirely too relatable portrait of fumbling through despair when a wrecked emotional state makes compromising actions seem somehow reasonable despite their desperation.
A less etheral way of describing the movie’s mood would be to call out its scenes of awkward interactions both with average girls on the street and with paid escorts in a club. Simon’s self-abusing haze spins him into a relationship that he more or less forces upon his favored call girl. The two of them are drawn together by the commonality of a tortured past rather than by genuine affection. These are broken lives lived by broken people who selfishly use each other to create a semblance of meaning for themselves solely because they have nothing of substance surrounding their existence.
If that description sounds too cerebral, then that fact alone is a fair barometer of the tone and the story of “Simon Killer.” Meaning is intended for the viewer to determine based upon his/her engagement with the film. “Simon Killer” is very much submerged in the brushstrokes of arthouse indulgences that care little for typical conventions of technical moviemaking.
Antonio Campos’ direction and Joe Anderson’s cinematography are intentionally as unobtrusive for the actors as possible. Limited in their number, camera setups are deliberate in their framing, but exist with little concern for composition. The camera is more of a tool for documenting the action. Dialogue scenes that might normally play as a two shot or by cutting back and forth between talking heads are instead stylized by a camera that slowly pans back and forth between the speakers. If heads are cut off or if action is missed, then so be it.
“Simon Killer” features enough backs of heads to send Michael Mann into a rage of envy. Every scene of a character walking always follows from behind. Yet what begins as an artistic choice becomes a conspicuous distraction when the cinematic style starts drawing more attention than the story. Overlong sequences of fapping, dancing at a club, or ambling down Paris streets make for a sometimes weary experience by unnecessarily extending the runtime when far less effort would suffice.
The acting is natural and the interplay is organic. If the filmmaking choices were less concerned with auteur appeal, the inherent interest in intriguing characters would be freer to captivate. Although the slow revelations, ambiguous ending, and potentially tame sociopathic traits exhibited as Simon develops will bore impatient audiences no matter what. “Killer” is in many ways a misnomer depending upon how one chooses to view the world that the film creates. “Simon Killer” is in actuality a stark drama about dark characters that break down people in ways involving intangible weapons and alternative methods of personal destruction. Which too often are far more effective means of accomplishing manipulative devastation.
Review Score: 65