Directed by Antonio Campos, Simon Killer follows the life of a psychologically damaged young American staying in Paris after a bad break-up. His experiences in the city, mainly at night-time, lead him to an equally lost and damaged prostitute. The two find solace in each other temporarily but Simon’s actions do little to help either of them to solve their problems.
The premise of Simon Killer is similar in many ways to other examples of art cinema; Shame (2011) and Oslo, August 31st (2011) both explore addictions and the contrast between reality and escapism. There is a problem here, however, in that both of these films have brutal, striking messages and memorable endings whereas Simon Killer fails to delve deep enough into the base reality it tries to expose. It is a film that is too hollow to create a great impact even if there is something important underneath its surface.
The saviour of the film is the leading actor, Brady Corbet, who is well-suited to his role. He gives off the impression of insecurity and nervousness whilst also managing to show the aggressive and primal side of human nature. His character is more intriguing than he is likeable but this is not surprising given the subject matter. The character study is well grounded in the mood the film creates. I think the atmosphere of Simon Killer is its most impressive and interesting aspect. The soundtrack pumps and pulsates in sudden jarring interludes to the more realistic and quieter scenes. These instances suggest a contrast between escapism and reality as well as the internal and external; an interesting idea when looking at an unstable character.
There is a sense of coldness and aggression in a number of encounters Simon has with other characters. His world is a place of disposable people, meetings, and places. This is a world which can be hard to connect to or fully understand and is where the film falls short of creating something profound. It is weighed down by its disconnected protagonist and the inability to make us understand his drive in life. There are moments of passion and emotion tied in with the unusual choices in cinematography which open up many avenues for analysis of character relationships. These moments of beauty in both the image and the soundtrack are sadly lost at times amongst the dullness of other scenes and the unlikable character of Simon.
Simon Killer successfully captures the mood of nightlife and themes of lust and aggression. It is a good art film but never a great one; too seedy to relate to yet too shy to delve into the depths of the cruel underworld the characters are involved in. There is a sense of the film being inspired by the work of Gaspar Noé but it never delves deep enough to shock in the same way as his films. What we are left with instead is a distant, Pretty Woman gone wrong character study that is an interesting watch but ultimately a failed attempt at making a deep, lasting impression.
• Behind the scenes
• Sundance interview with director and producers
• ‘The Last 15’ short film
• Film aesthetics interview with Antonio Campos
The DVD and Blu-ray will be released through Masters of Cinema on 26th August.