|Director: Antonio Campos
Brady Corbet, Nicolas Ronchi, Constance Rousseau, Lila Salet
Antonio Campos’s character portrait of a sexually depraved sociopath Simon Killer is being released on Blu-ray in the UK by the Masters of Cinema Series. This film by the same director as Afterschool, while not garnering the mainstream success it probably should have, has left a faint but permanent afterglow in the minds of those who have seen it.
This movie tells the story of a young American named Simon who flees to Paris in the wake of a bad breakup with his long time girlfriend. Following in the steps of every isolated and emotionally damaged American in a foreign land, he wanders listlessly to all the city’s points of interest: museums, bars, and brothels. At first, Simon appears sympathetic; soft spoken, polite, and heartbroken. In the first scene of the movie Simon describes how he was cheated on in such visceral language (the smell of latex and another man’s sweat on your lover as she climbs into bed with you) that our hearts go out to him, and in some cases relate to him. But then he strikes up a criminal partnership with a partisan prostitute named Marianne and the film descends into the true heart of Simon.
There are so many elements that make this film a great one, from theme to imagery. But one of the greatest aspects is its pace. The full picture of who Simon is reveals itself slowly like the mouth of a carnivorous flower, the jagged teeth of his sexuality yawning wider and wider as the film goes on. This progression, starting with pornography and ending with him beating an already broken and scorned Marianne, draws us into the maw of a character who is manipulative and depraved, yet disturbingly gentle. Part of what make this movie so traumatizing, at least from the male perspective, is that we understand and relate to Simon’s impulses even as they begin to grow darker. We realize too late that he is a monster, and even then we aren’t one hundred percent sure. And the things he does to women, the details of which we are privy too, are sure to upset the genders equally.
All of this ties into one theme: perspective. Simon is a recent graduate who studied neuroscience, specifically the relationship between the eye and the brain. This is the first hint that Simon, upon whose shoulder we sit like an observant devil, is an unreliable narrator. Or perhaps we should call him a Lie-Of-Omission Narrator as his evil hides in the things that are not initially said or done. Every time he puts on his headphones to block out the world, we too only hear his music. When he writes emails to his ex-girlfriend we hear him composing sentences on the page in real time, writing and re-writing. The film juxtaposes scenes of him committing acts of violence with emotionally tender scenes. The camera often sits at waist level, both illustrating his detachment as well as allowing us to fully project ourselves onto the interaction.
The film also shows us all the gritty details that make a character like Simon come to life (wiping cum off of his lover with a tissue, his masturbatory habits, his animalistic whine when his frustrations get the better of him) and allows his acts of brutality to hit the viewer with full force. After he beats Marianne ostensibly to death, the only emotional reaction we see from him is when he realizes that he left a fox pin that his mother gave him as a child behind. And then he weeps like a child, which in the end is what he might have been all along.
The transitions in the film are expertly timed and executed; a series of flashing lights that may be an alienating computer screen that melts into the Paris skyline. They are maddening and unsettling, and reflect the emotional state that Simon must be in throughout the film.
We were only able to sample the DVD version of this film, rather than the blu-ray, but even that was an impressive experience. Shot digitally, on the Arri Alexa, a camera that’s particularly good at shooting in low light, the streets of Paris are made to look appropriately seedy, yet colorful, using only the available street light. Elsewhere, even when shooting in the lowest possible light, I did not detect any black crush. In fact the range of this camera is exceptionally wide. Colors look organic, and the image overall has impressive depth and contrast.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is perfect in every way. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the film has a very convincing ambiance throughout. The music track sounds fantastic as well in all ranges.
Eureka’s release of Simon Killer comes with a rich selection of extra features. First is the Behind-the-scenes and rehearsal footage from the production of the film. Next, we have a Sundance Alumni interview with Antonio Campos and producers Sean Durkin and Josh Mond. Next is The Case of the Conscious Camera – a 29-minute interview with Campos on the aesthetics of Simon Killer. Next is Conversations with Moms – an interview with Campos, Brady Corbet and their mothers. There is also an original theatrical trailer. Also included is The Last 15 – Campos’s Palme d’Or nominated short film. The blu-ray booklet features a new and exclusive essay by critic Karina Longworth; a new interview with Antonio Campos; a visual primer on the development of the poster art; and more.
Simon Killer is a distributing and entrancing film that is a must see for any fan of psychological horror films, as well as for any one who admits to harbors dark fantasies. Watch at your own risk.