Simon is an American graduate in Paris, about to begin a trip around Europe while he recovers from the break-up of a long-term relationship.  It obviously wasn’t a good break-up. He spends his time walking the streets (with the camera following the back of his head in slightly sick-making shaky close-up), wandering around the Louvre and sending increasingly desperate emails to his ex. Then, one night in the cinema, he sees a girl. But, as good-looking and (seemingly) charming as Simon is, his awkward attempt to speak with her get him nowhere.

It’s obvious there’s something wrong with Simon. Some coldness, a lack of empathy and a slow-burn resentment towards the world that gradually reveals itself to be something much more dangerous. And when he finds himself infatuated with a young, emotionally-guarded prostitute, Simon’s descent into sociopathy finally tumbles out of control.
 
By the time he meets cinema girl again, Simon has done a lot of bad things.

‘Simon Killer’ is a curious film. It’s definitely not a film I can say I enjoyed, but as a character study of a man on the possible cusp of becoming a psychopath, it’s a disconcerting and occasionally hypnotic experience.simonkillerposter

When people ask Simon what he graduated in, he tells them he studied neuroscience with a specialisation in peripheral vision, and the relationship of the eye to the brain. It’s obvious that writer / director Antonio Campos (who produced Sean Durkin’s unsettling ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’) is as fascinated by a similar type of connection (or, more accurately, disconnection) in the way Simon attempts to manipulate the world around him, abusing the people who let him inside, and then seemingly rewrites history, becoming the wounded party, as events rapidly turn bad.

Brady Corbet (‘Melancholia’ and Michael Haneke’s ‘Funny Games’ remake) gives an unsympathetic but extremely watchable performance, almost a precursor to the even more disturbing character he played in Haneke’s film.  He’s on screen for practically the entire running time and I found myself so convinced by him that, every now and again, it felt as if the camera was moving into extreme close-up on his face when, in fact, Antonio Campos’s lens spends a lot of its time not moving at all. There aren’t any tics or histrionics about Simon, and the fact we know very little – if anything at all – about his background, about what made him this way, is as chilling as it is frustrating.

Mati Diop, as Victoria the prostitute, is equally as mysterious and understated, although why she allows Simon into her life is possibly the most mysterious element of all. Maybe it’s Campos and his disconnections again – the prostitute, who we typically assume should be hard as nails once the job’s (or, more accurately, John’s) done – turns out to have much less of a survival instinct than the second girl in Simon’s life, the prettier but ultimately more street-wise Marianne (Constance Rousseau, whose bright eyes and fragile beauty command every scene she’s in).

From a style point of view, Campos makes some interesting choices. The infectious soundtrack is a character in itself and DP Joe Anderson’s photography is sensitively balanced, opening with a panoramic shot of Paris that is both engaging and distancing, a slow pan of the skyline as the frame flickers and strobes and gradually bleeds red, an effective introduction to Simon’s POV and the distortion of reality that is to come.

‘Simon Killer’ is the kind of film that makes you want to take a shower afterwards, and be grateful you have nothing in common with the mindset of the title character… hopefully.

Or maybe that’s what made ‘Simon Killer’ so unsettling for me to watch: the fact we’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve felt isolated and angry and not in control of our world, and maybe the anger inside Simon lies dormant inside all of us, and the people we think we know, just waiting for the right crisis to switch it on.

But, ultimately, ‘Simon Killer’ felt like less of a film and more of a snapshot, an opening chapter to a bigger movie I hope Antonio Campos never makes. Not that it wouldn’t be worth watching. Just that I don’t want to come here again.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white