Simon Killer

Simon Killer


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Despite the title, there is little (if any) killing in Simon Killer. The titular character, played by a suitably unsettling Brady Corbett, comes across more as person you might ignore if he spoke to you the street or sat opposite you on a train yet, when years later, you saw his face in the papers under the headline “Killer finally jailed' it would all click in to place. “I always knew there was something weird about him,” you'd think.

Across Simon Killer's 100-odd minutes, it soon becomes clear that the young, Euro travelling graduate Simon is probably deeply damaged and dangerous in some way, but given the film toys with themes of perception (ocular perception studies was Simon's specialisation at University - or so he says) who can say for sure that Simon actually partook in the events we see on screen. Is this a sociopath in the making?

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Simon appears as a lost student in a post-graduate, post-breakup funk in Paris when we first see him, confessing his emotional turmoil to a friend who's apartment he is borrowing. Simon seems intense yet disconnected all at the same time, but as we follow him trudging through the gloomy Parisian streets, headphones in, hoodie up, there seems little reason to recoil. Noticeably in these early scenes the steadicam camera is often positioned right behind Simon's head, again playing with ideas of perception while also removing us from a position where we can judge Simon's reactions. In fact, from a certain perspective, this could be just another Lost in Translation-type jaunt with a young stranger, unable to see his potential, adrift in a strange land. Surely the right girl will come along and save Simon from his malaise?

Needless to say, this doesn't quite happen. Instead, director Campos (who produced the acclaimed Martha Marcy May Marlene and directed Afterschool) and actor Corbett work together to slowly turn up the unease factor. Running low on money and seemingly without any forward momentum, Simon runs into the beautiful but haunted prostitute Victoria (Mati Diop) after he solicits her at a seedy Paris bar. The mismatched pair begin an intense sexual relationship. But this isn't the kind of movie relationship where a pretty pair blossom and discover new paths and passions. Slowly but surely we are drip-fed more more hints that Simon is not merely a troubled, lonely puppy but a needy, manipulative and potentially dangerous sociopath. Campos doesn't give us anything as clear cut as a scene where Simon stomps on a puppy, or stares longingly at a rack of knives. It's in the way he stares, the odd tone of his voice, the intense, almost childish yet somehow violent way he makes love, the strange air of desperation and manipulation.

Presenting himself as destitute and the victim of a robbery (an event he may have staged himself) Simon is soon urging Victoria take him in for the long term. Before long he cajoles her into blackmailing her own clients. When that goes sour, behind her back he starts wooing a naïve young French student. When the pressure cooker finally blows (or does it?), we are so uncertain about Simon's perception, (and by nature our own as the film is told from his Point of view) that we are not sure how his sociopathy has manifested, if it has at all. Stylistic flourishes such as the strange colour and light collages that blot out the screen every so often only further raise the possibility that some kind of delusion or meltdown is going on here, perhaps this is the only real peek we get it into Simon's shattered psyche. All is ambiguous. And maybe that's the problem – with killers, it-s often hard to see it coming.

Given its slow pace, ambiguity and unlikeable and distant characters, Simon Killer will not be to everyone's taste. It could probably have done with a trim to the run time. Those wanting an American Psycho style explosive pay off to certain tense sequences will go home empty handed. But Campos' film is technically accomplished, projects an effectively disturbing atmosphere overall, and Corbett yet again marks himself out as a fearless talent to watch.

Reviewed on: 13 Mar 2013
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A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of five years. Once there, he falls in love with a young prostitute and their fateful journey begins.
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Read more Simon Killer reviews:

Sophie Monks Kaufman ****

Director: Antonio Campos

Writer: Antonio Campos

Starring: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Michaël Abiteboul, Alex Desjoux, Marc Gaviard, Alexandra Neil, Nicolas Ronchi, Etienne Rotha Moeng, Constance Rousseau, Lila Salet, Solo

Year: 2011

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France, US

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