Title: Simon Killer
Director: Antonio Campos
Screenwriter: Antonio Campos, story by Antonio Campos, Brady Corbet, Mati Diop
Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Michael Abiteboul, Constance Rousseau, Lila Salot, Solo
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 3/20/13
Opens: April 5, 2013
When American travel to Europe on vacation, they do not generally communicate with the locals, their only contacts being with professional guides, waiters and hotel personnel. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea, at least when you consider what happens to Simon (Brady Corbet). Brady Corbet is made for this role, coming from a riveting performance as one of two young psychopaths in Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games.” As Peter in that film, he and his buddy go from house to house terrorizing the residents, acting oh-so-cultured on meeting them and getting their trust.
That we should be careful about giving our trust to people is a theme in “Simon Killer,” directed by Antonio Campos whose previous works include “Afterschool” about a preppie who captures the drug overdose of two girls on video. Here Campos takes us to the streets of Paris where hookers, like Victoria (Mati Diop) are all cuter than American streetwalkers and where one even has that proverbial heart of gold. Such a soul is lacking, however, in Simon, a compulsive liar whose sweetheart of five years had thrown him out leading him to travel to Paris to “clear his head.” But from the start, we in the audience sense that something is wrong deep down, however articulate and pleasant he appears to us at first, as when he discusses the trauma of his breakup with Carlo (Nicolas Ronchi), a friend of his mother who is allowing Simon to stay at his flat while he goes away for a month.
If “Simon Killer” gets an MPAA rating, NC-17 is the only way it could go given several scenes of soft porn that find the title character having vigorous sex with Victoria, a hooker who has taken a liking to her customer after having charged him one hundred fifty euros for each of two sexual adventures. Simon gains her sympathy by being vulnerable, telling of his breakup back in New York and in one situation, having provoked a fight with a couple of thugs, asking to stay at her place while she bandages his hand.
We in the audience cannot be sure when Simon is lying when he tells Victoria the same line he gave to Carlo: that he graduated from college with a degree in neuroscience. The story is repeated with Marianne (Constance Rousseau), a college student studying French medieval and Renaissance literature, who is taken in as well by the young man’s charm and by his insistence that his neuroscience thesis had been published. One thing is certain, however: Simon, despite the rage that lies beneath, is an appealing person (like Ted Bundy?) who becomes a target for mayhem after convincing Victoria to tape a couple of rich clients and to blackmail them.
Some in the audience may well find “Simon Killer” to be distasteful, even a movie that would prompt a walk-out for those who think that the sexual scenes are unnecessary for moving the plot forward. Even detractors will praise the performance by Brady Corbet, an interesting actor indeed, one perhaps destined to play more sociopathic roles as he did in “Funny Games”—a cold, amoral person who nonetheless knows how to succeed with women, at least at first. The movie has a fascinating techno-rock soundtrack of songs favored by the title character played at a blaring level, contrasting those moments with periods of silence on the track as we watch cinematographer Joe Anderson film the performers largely from the back with a sometimes dizzying, handheld camera.
Unrated. 106 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B