Directed by: Antonio Campos.
Written by: Antonio Campos & Brady Corbet & Mati Diop.
Starring: Brady Corbet (Simon), Mati Diop (Victoria / Noura), Constance Rousseau (Marianne), Lila Salet (Sophie), Michaël Abiteboul (Jean), Solo (René).
Simon Killer may well end up being the most disturbing movie of the year. As a film that traps us in its main characters mind as he goes from asshole into something far worse, Simon Killer works better than most audiences members will probably like. It’s not a pleasant experience to be inside of Simon’s head throughout the course of this movie – and that’s a tribute both to director Antonio Campos who directs everything to great claustrophobic effect, and the lead performance by Brady Corbet, who has never been better than he is here. The movie is at its best when it’s doing little to nothing – simply observing Simon in long, unbroken shots that trap him, and us. It’s at its worse when Campos and Corbett, along with co-star Mati Diop (the three also share writing credit) try to force its characters into something resembling a plot. This is a movie – and a character – who don’t take well to a narrative. In total, Simon Killer feels like an early work of a filmmaker who is going to become great – not quite a great film in its own right, but something worth seeing to see the director’s development. It’s up to Campos if that proves to be true or not.
The movie opens with Simon giving us his backstory – you would be forgiven in thinking that he’s talking to his shrink, because that is what it seems like at first, but in reality, he’s talking to someone he barely knows – the son of his mother’s friend – who has agreed to let Simon stay at his Paris apartment for a week while he’s away. Simon has recently graduated from University – and for the first of many times, he tells someone that he studied Neuro-Science – specifically the relationship between the brain and the eye (I could probably delve into why that’s important to the movie – but let’s not get sidetracked). His girlfriend of five years has just broken up with him – and things didn’t end well. She’s scared of him, and doesn’t want anything to do with him anymore. Throughout the movie, he’ll send some increasingly desperate e-mails to her – and when she finally responds, it coldly. Simon just wants to get away for a while and clear his head – he’ll be in Paris for a week, and then move onto to somewhere else. He never gets there.
That opening scene sets up the fact that Simon may not really be the “good” guy he claims to be – something that will become increasingly apparent as the early scenes move along – where even something as small as bumping into someone on the street escalates to something much more than it should be. While these scenes are not violent, the feeling of impending violence increases as the movie goes along, and the film traps us with Simon, who is never out of the frame. Things start to get worse when he meets Victoria (Mati Diop), a prostitute at a club. There first session is brief – but their relationship will grow throughout the movie – going from a typical prostitute/john affair, into something more akin to a “real relationship” – or at least as much of one as Simon is capable of having. Their frequent sex scenes are what made the MPAA slap this with a NC-17 rating (although it was released “unrated) – and it’s easy to see why. These are among the least erotic sex scenes you will ever see in a movie – and become increasingly disturbing as they move along. The sex scenes are really a power struggle between these two characters.
The movie is at its best when its focused on Simon, or Simon and Victoria (who reveals her real name – Noura) to him. To say both of these people are damaged would be an understatement, and to see them fight for control becomes difficult to watch. It’s less effective when it takes a prolonged detour into a strange blackmail scheme Simon dreams up for him and Victoria to pull on her johns. These scenes almost seem as if the filmmakers thought they needed to pad the running time, or else add some sort of plot to the movie – but it’s a poorly handled distraction more than anything else.
The movie also is a little heavy handed in its treatment of the other major female character Marianne (Constance Rousseau), a beautiful blonde Simon meets on the street. Visually and otherwise, she is the polar opposite of Diop’s Victoria – and the filmmakers try too hard to get the audience to see them as the virgin and the whore. It’s all just a little too neat for my tastes. And while Diop herself is great in the movie, I would have preferred even more of her – had the filmmakers tried to make her a character with as much weight as Simon, it could have elevated the entire movie.
Still, Simon Killer remains a challenging, disturbing and uncomfortable viewing experience to say the least. Campos got a lot of praise for his debut film – Afterschool (unseen by me), which is also said to be extremely disturbing. On the basis of Simon Killer, he’s a talent to watch – as is Corbet (who has quietly built up an impressive resume) and Diop. Simon Killer is not a great movie – but it’s a fascinating one. I want to see these three team up again.