Breakups are never easy, especially when you’re a borderline sociopath. Thank goodness, you can get away from it all and work out your feelings in Paris as the borderline sociopath Simon does in Simon Killer.
With a name like Simon Killer, you know the writer or director didn’t care much about playing his hand too soon. Unfortunately, Anthony Campos (Afterschool) is both the writer and the director in this erotic and violent thriller of sorts that casts those viewing it as both voyeur and victim.
Simon (Brady Corbet) is a published post grad with a degree involving ocular science. He’s recently broken up from his girlfriend and tries to clear his head in Paris. He housesits for a family friend and while there, gets in touch with himself thanks to emotionally opening up about his relationship issues with his mom via Skype sessions and opening up physically to sexual webcams. Neither leave Simon truly satisfied though, so he takes his mom’s advice and tries to contact his ex, Michelle. When she doesn’t return his calls, texts or emails, he decides to explore the streets of Paris.
The Yank who yanks checks out what makes Americans so fascinated with Paris. No, not the restaurants, museums and beautiful landscapes, but the strip clubs. Once inside, he finds that all is not what it seems, but between the overpriced drinks and haggard-looking exotic dancers, he discovers a ray of sunshine in the beautiful Victoria (Mati Diop). She takes a liking to the creepily introverted American to the point that she offers him a discount for her deluxe services. Simon finds a connection to the stripper with a heart of gold (and don’t they all have a heart of gold?) and schemes his way into her apartment and eventually into her affection. Instead of trying to convince her to leave a life of tricks, lap dances and champagne, he coerces her into maximizing her potential through blackmailing her clients. When a truck-sized John reacts with fists instead of money, Simon learns firsthand that the City of Lights is not all berets and baguettes. He finds mixed success with the blackmail and that confidence leads him to have an affair with another French girl Marianne (Constance Rousseau), which leads to an unnerving conclusion.
According to a recent interview, both Campos and Corbet were dealing with relationship issues at the time. It’s good to know, because you will be looking for a person to blame on this movie’s shortcomings long before the end credits. Corbet isn’t bad as the physically deteriorating man on the relationship edge, but at some point, you have to do more than just creep people out. Keeping people on edge works great in horror, but not for a film that can’t decide if it’s a disjointed love story, noir or a thriller.
Campos’ claustrophobic cinematography is limiting in that it makes the audience feel trapped. There are several unnecessarily long shots that will drive you as crazy as Simon, particularly one in a disco where he seems to dance forever. Music both in and out of the dancehall is blaring—it doesn’t progress the story or serve the film, though it does provide an example of what not to do in a film.
The City of Paris may as well have taken place in an anonymous sound stage. Landmarks are absent, and people are neglected, literally. Just as Simon slowly loses grip on his sanity (and the French language), the people of France become more and more invisible. Faces are blurred, voices are added in post-production dubbing or mixed, and people are rarely seen actually speaking. Perhaps the director meant to dehumanize the world around Simon. (Also, if you want to know how many shots of waists and backs of heads that you can stand before you ask for a refund, this is the movie for you.)
Simon Killer leaves you uneasy long before you wonder if Simon will get caught or find a conscience for his crimes, both real and imagined. Is he misogynistic or just insane? I won’t spoil the ending for you, but unlike Simon, I will warn you to obey the warning signs and head for the exits at the first sign of trouble.
Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Antonio Campos
Starring: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop
Release Date: Apr. 5, 2013 (New York); Apr. 12, 2013 (Los Angeles, VOD)