out of Five
Running time: 105
Impressively directed and sharply written, this is a disturbing study in sociopathy with a compelling lead performance from Brady Corbet.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Antonio Campos, Simon Killer begins with American college graduate Simon (Brady Corbet) arriving in Paris and explaining to his cousin Carlo (Nicholas Ronchi) how he has just split up with his girlfriend of five years because she cheated on him.
After meeting in a seedy bar, Simon befriends prostitute Victoria (Mati Diop) and manipulates her into letting him move into her flat before cajoling her into videotaping and blackmailing some of her clients. At the same time, Simon's attentions are drawn to Marianne (Constance Rousseau), a young French woman he met on his first night in the city.
Actor Brady Corbet (Funny Games, Mysterious Skin) adds to his impressive roster of disturbed or disturbing characters with a terrific turn as sociopathic ex-student Simon, who's like a sleazier version of Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley. Initially we are sympathetic towards him as, like Carlo, we fall for his sob story, sense his loneliness and even root for him to connect with someone; however, as the film progresses, we begin to suspect that perhaps Simon isn't being entirely honest about his reasons for leaving America and we gradually fear for the people he meets.
Campos is clearly drawn to sociopaths as cinematic subjects, as evidenced by his previous film, Afterschool, which starred Ezra Miller as a student disconnected from those around him. Simon Killer works in a similar way, the camera following Corbet around with a Dardennes-like intimacy that is simultaneously compelling and unsettling; this is heightened by Campos' occasional use of coloured stroboscopic transitions between scenes, the sort of effect that ought to come with a warning against inducing possible nausea.
Campos generates an effectively tense atmosphere throughout and orchestrates a number of memorable sequences, including a masturbation scene that rivals Shame for its sheer discomfort. The script also does an excellent job of hiding the true extent of Simon's darkness, something that's offset with unexpected moments of humour, such as Simon running away in comedy fashion after he doesn't get the expected response from a would-be blackmail victim.
Simon Killer is a superbly acted, deeply unsettling drama that confirms writer-director Antonio Campos as an indie talent to watch. Recommended.