Antonio Campos graduated from the Sundance Alumni with his breakout debut, Afterschool. That set him out as a talent who never shied away from the explicit in modern life; it also gave an early platform to rising star Ezra Miller (We need to talk about Kevin & The Perks of being a Wallflower). His follow-up comes in the shape of Simon Killer and is distributed in the UK by Masters of Cinema, which itself is a loaded statement that is going to be acknowledged from the off. There is no way Campos can live up to the lofty aspirations of the label’s moniker but don’t let that colour your opinion yet, Campos has much to offer in his sophomore film.
Brady Corbet is Simon, a New York Graduate in Paris who when we first meet him is clearing his head after a messy break up with his ex-girlfriend. Alone and depressed, Simon spends most of his time in the French capital listened to music, visiting art galleries and indulging in a toxic brand of self-pity. It’s only when he happens upon a back street sex parlour that his visit takes a different complexion, and the character of Simon becomes more than his personality engulfing neuroses.
While his personality is off swaggering in the background Simon Killer flirts with beauty. With a time-honoured combination of simple but elegant photography of Paris’ many art orientated tourist stops and Simon’s eclectic music choices on his mp3 player, Campos offers a feast from the eyes and ears. As well as a simple, deliberate panning of the camera by cinematographer Joe Anderson (Martha Marcy May Marlene & Ain’t them Body Saints), some interesting visuals are employed. Blue strobes and oblique lighting is used throughout, suggesting that the mental stability of Simon isn’t quite as black and white as we the viewer would like to believe. Above that thematic reading, the use of these lush blue visuals is also a pleasant relief from an austere world view. Two of the songs that are repeated throughout (Apply by Glasser and Animal by the Suzan) consistently offer an irregular heartbeat to this visit, in both the beautiful and difficult intents.
The most immediately pressing issue of Simon Killer is its frank relationship with Sex; this is not a glamorous representation, it’s honest and quite often ugly. This is the singular aspect of Simon’s character that makes the film a difficult watch, there are at least half a dozen sex scenes either with Simon on his own or with the prostitute he falls for in Victoria (Mati Doup). Each and every instance is drawn out; editing doesn’t save the day, when Simon is finished the camera will finally avert its gaze. It presents the lead as a perverse sort, and with even a few of these scenes this conclusion is quickly arrived at. With upwards of half of dozen such instances it draws the film out upsetting the flow by repeating it’s most confrontational point so regularly. At least 3 of these cases could be dropped and there would be next to no negative effect.
Like that unflinching sexuality, as the film presses on the character study of Simon asks questions of his relationship with women. The once tourist, who just wanted to gather his thoughts before moving on a new after an episode only hinted at through narrated emails and phone calls, soon reveals his true colours. Whether it’s his plan to help a prostitute through video cameras, his complete neglect of the consequences or his disdain of women on any other level than that of a Sex Object, it’s clear that Simon is a nasty person who’ll blame anybody but himself for his problems. As unlikable as he is, the titular role is brilliantly realised by Brady Corbet. As for the directors involvement, the entire reasoning of this film is built around ambiguity: what did Simon do to his ex (Michelle)? And, why does he treat women with such scorn?
“A brilliantly performed and photographed character study of an abusive weasel” is a summary that fits Simon Killer. But that doesn’t tell all the story. Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer possesses all the craft and verve that you’d expect for a film uttered in the same sentence as masters of cinema, however its indulgent relationship with frank sexuality and the inert opening act hold it back from the film it would’ve been. There can be no doubt that Campos’ has delivered an accomplished character study, but one that’s more notable for the potential it articulates than the young director’s fully realised creation.
SPECIAL BLU-RAY AND DVD EDITIONS
• 1080p Blu-ray presentation (progressive presentation on the DVD) of the film in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio
• Optional English subtitles (SDH also available)
• The Last 15 — a 16-minute short film by Antonio Campos from 2006
• The Case of the Conscious Camera — a 29-minute interview with Campos on the aesthetics of Simon Killer
• Sundance alumni spotlight — an interview with Campos, Sean Durkin, and Josh Mond
• Conversations with Moms — an interview with Campos, Brady Corbet, and their mothers
• A selection of behind-the-scenes and rehearsal footage featuring alternate takes
• Original theatrical trailer
• 52-PAGE BOOKLET featuring a new and exclusive essay by critic Karina Longworth; a new interview with Antonio Campos and star Brady Corbet; alternate poster artwork; and more