‘Simon Killer’ Review
When I went to Paris I ate croissants and drank red wine. When Brady Corbet's newly sprung post-grad Simon goes to Paris, he creeps through the city with a lecherous, malevolent camera eye that, in time, will stoke the coals of any sociopathic fires within. 'Simon Killer' - a divisive film lurking on the festival circuit - is dark, disorienting and disturbing. This is its goal, so it is also a success.
'Simon Killer' is a great title for a film, but the one I had in my head for the first half was 'Portrait of a Douchebag as a Young Man.' There isn't much in the way of violent behavior in most of 'Simon Killer,' just an aimless tour through Paris with a whiny, selfish, heartsick American whose every other word is a lie. He's not dangerous – he's just a jerk. At least at first.
While Antonio Campos' hazy, drone-like film is meant to evoke the mindset of someone like 'Taxi Driver''s Travis Bickle, Corbet's Simon is very much the wimpy 21st century version. He is a needy, sexually immature man, a habitual onanist, a premature ejaculator and a mope who literally cries to his mother via Skype. He is, though, the eyes through which you experience this film, and the fact that you will kinda-sorta identify with him (even though you'll be thinking “this guy's such an ass”) is a remarkable trick.
Simon is in Paris to get his head together after a bad breakup. (In time, you'll realize the unseen ex is clearly the sharpest character in the film.) He hooks up with a hooker who has a slight spin on the proverbial heart of gold and, after some awkward sex and more awkward conversation, they hatch on a scheme to juice her johns of some blackmail money.
The criminal machinations are secondary to watching a complete screw-up play at something way, way above his pay grade. In no time he is in real danger, and what's worse is that his weasel-like defenses mean that all the wrong people will get the blame.
A recurring motif is something called “size-pulling,” the subject of Simon's recent thesis about blindness in periphery vision. Simon is certainly blind – or uncaring – to the harm he brings to the people around him, but has been lucky so far to avoid any real repercussions. What's annoying is that we all kinda know someone like this. Maybe not quite so in deep with manipulating people, but someone who always seems to be in trouble and it is always someone else's fault. 'Simon Killer' is a cautionary tale about how toxic individuals have a knack for ruining other peoples' lives.
Campos' style is brooding and mesmerizing. Yet it is still quite difficult to recommend this movie to just anyone. There are some creepy sexual moments that ought to freak people out. The scene I'll remember most doesn't even involve much nudity, just Corbet's frightening, lustful gaze that combines a fundamental weakness and blunt anger. It's something I don't think I've ever seen in a movie before. . .and I don't know if I ever want to again.
'Simon Killer' opens in select theaters on April 5.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.