The distribution of arthouse cinema can be tricky. This experimental form of filmmaking has a very specific target audience, which can sometimes be difficult to reach. When it's aimed towards mainstream viewers, it can receive less than desirable reactions. A perfect example of this would be Spring Breakers, since a lot of audiences simply didn't understand what writer/director Harmony Korine was trying to achieve. Antonio Campos' Simon Killer is also incredibly unconventional. Campos is known for the "punch-in-the-gut effect" that his pictures carry after his debut with Afterschool and the producer role he held in the indie-hit Martha Marcy May Marlene. If you're easily offended or are strictly looking for mindless entertainment, then this isn't the picture for you. This is most certainly a great movie, but it definitely pushes the envelope, which I deeply respect.
Simon (Brady Corbet) just graduated from college with a major that revolves around the relationship between the eyes and the brain. After a rough break-up with his girlfriend of nearly five years, he finds himself fleeing to Paris by himself, which is where the couple have wanted to go for years. Simon doesn't speak French fluently, which makes it difficult for him to communicate with people on the streets. One night, he walks into a bar and meets a couple prostitutes. He finds himself enchanted by the one named Victoria (Mati Diop). Once they become further involved, his incredibly dark past begins to reveal itself.
The opening sequence constructs Simon as being the protagonist of the picture, who quickly reveals himself as the antihero. He begins speaking about his ex-girlfriend, Michelle. He attempts to convey that he's over her, but Simon is emotionally destroyed. His loneliness seems to intensify with each passing sequence, as he goes back and forth between e-mailing Michelle and prowling the streets for a new woman. Since he's still learning French, he has a language barrier that hinders him from entirely interacting with the women he finds attractive, but he continues to put forth the effort. The audience isn't directly told very much about the lead character, but Campos provides this information through a variety of aspects found through the running time. His behavior in conversations to the sex scenes are all large indicators of who Simon is as a person. He believes that he's a good person who is doing the right thing, but the viewers are seeing his actions from a completely different perspective. While we get a look within Simon's head, we're largely watching everything play out as if we're another person on the street; we continue to stalk Simon from place to place.
Simon Killer's screenplay only gets darker from there. Our antihero develops a scheme to get more money for Victoria through blackmailing her clients. He finds himself stuck between Victoria and the sweet Sophie (Lila Salet), who he meets on the street. This conveys a constant pull between the light and the darkness, which creates a large amount of difficulties for our lead character. Pathological lying can become a disease that can devour one's ability to distinguish oneself. This trip to Paris leads this antihero down a path of destruction, which he will never be able to repair. The audience ultimately discovers that they are watching the character study of a complete sociopath. People can relate to break-ups and loneliness, but this later twists and turns into a story about much more disturbing content that lurks within Simon. However, this picture explores more than one would imagine, as it's also about Simon's relationships with other people. They aren't all within the close proximity of Paris, but they fulfill a large amount of the feature's material. Writer/director Antonio Campos displays a variety of behaviors found within this sociopathic character. The viewers are left to discover which is the "true" Simon.
This piece of arthouse cinema constantly pushes the viewer to think about what Campos isn't showing us. There are significant events that we never get to see. For example, we never get to see or hear details about Michelle and Simon's final fight. We know the reasons for it and how it ended, but the rest is left to our imagination. Not only is Michelle never seen, but we don't even know what she sounds like. Everything is from Simon's point-of-view, as even her e-mails are read through his voice-overs. Conventional filmmaking often incorporates the use of the flashback structure, but Campos keeps us in the present. This story is told is a linear fashion, as we never jump forwards or backwards. Moviegoers are thrown into a specific moment in time and the film ends on another plot point. There isn't a clear beginning or ending to this motion picture. We don't know what happens after the screen goes black, which allows the audience to play with a variety of different outcomes. Movies don't always have to spell everything out.
Antonio Campos and actor Brady Corbet have become extremely comfortable with each other, and that trust shows on screen. Corbet is absolutely mesmerizing as Simon. He draws us in and holds us in a daze until the credits begin rolling. Corbet is so convincing, as he makes this character seem almost too real. Mati Diop delivers a solid performance as Victoria. Not only is she believable in this role, but her conversations with Corbet are exceptional. They create numerous emotionally intense moments that aren't very easy to forget. The remainder of the supporting cast enhance the feature's desired effect. There isn't a single poor performance to speak of. Antonio Campos has obtained some excellent representations out of these actors that truly define this feature.
There have always been split opinions about the handheld form of filmmaking. Campos uses it quite often, but it never becomes bothersome. It's primarily utilized as we're following Simon down streets, but it's absolutely appropriate in such sequences. This filmmaker doesn't only ask us to think about what isn't shown in the story, but also what isn't shown through the visuals. He displays a lot of profile shots of his actors, which convey the tone very well. However, Campos also films from below the neck in a few instances. This forces us to focus on the movements of the cast, as well as the intimacy expressed through the given scene. The cinematography is simply stunning, which is only supported by the music selections that reflect well on the sequences, as well as the characters themselves. A lot of the story is told through the visuals rather than through the dialogue.
This film is dark, disturbing, yet somehow beautiful, but it isn't for everybody. It will surely split viewers, but it will impress those interested in this form of filmmaking. Writer/director Antonio Campos utilizes every visual aspect of the film in order to deliver a unique experience that can almost never be found on the big screen, which will make audiences uncomfortable, but leave them undeniably hooked to the screen. Under his direction, Brady Corbet's haunting performance is undeniably difficult to shake. There isn't a single dull moment to be found in this intense character study that left me feeling the side effects of the trance it engulfed me in. Simon Killer is a rare film that won't easily escape from one's memory. Highly recommended to those who are craving arthouse cinema!