Antonio Campos has a compelling track record. It consists only of his debut feature “Afterschool” and a production credit on the equally unsettling “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” but those credits alone have thrust him into the indiesphere as a director worth watching. Campos’ focus on a particularly appalling form of sociopathy (male in his own films, female in “MMMM”) is both relentless and rewarding, but his latest film, “Simon Killer,” is having a bit trouble reaching the critics. A look at the “Grade Snapshot” feature shows as many ratings on the “C” (or worse) columns as the “A” column. Some are calling it overdone and lacking insight, while others are drawn in by its grit and ambiguity. It’s certainly a very sensual film, almost Lynchian in tone, but trading the surrealism in for pure misery. Here’s what critics are saying:
PRO: The cinematography deconstructs realism and provokes questions.
“What does the camera’s eye tell us to think about Simon, as the observational — practically cinema verite — cinematography creates an even further allusion of truth. In many ways, ‘Simon Killer’ plays like a deconstruction of perceived cinematic realism, picking away at its inherent layers of dishonesty.” — Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit
CON: But they are all cliches.
“The languorous long-takes, dissociative sound design and strobe-light scene transitions meant to mirror this emotional con artist’s skewed view of the world are anxiety-of-influence hand-me-downs through and through — viscera without vision.” — Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York
PRO: It’s an absorbing study of a disturbed mind.
“The film is frequently masterful, suggesting the turbulent inner state of an American sociopath who believes himself to be a good guy.” — Scott Tobias, NPR
CON: It’s been done before, and better, by Campos himself.
“[‘Afterschool’] also made us wade through some amoral youngsters perpetrating horrible offenses, but at least there was some cogent commentary about online voyeurism and how media saturation can desensitize young people to real-life sex and violence.” — Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
PRO: It lets the viewer decide.
“By insisting on merely presenting Simon to us rather than representing or judging him, Simon Killer exudes a deep ambivalence toward its titular main character — and that is what makes the film such an interesting ride.” — John Oursler, In Review Online
CON: It comes dangerously close to misogyny in the process.
“Campos chooses a contrived plot development about the couple trying to extort money from embarrassed johns and he also chooses to dwell on the sex, which is alienated and semi-violent…Worse, I had a feeling that the director was getting off on the violence against this woman, and that he lost the way of his story to direct his loving gaze at a bunch of sleaze.” — Yehudit Mam, I’ve Had It With Hollywood
PRO: It’s more trouble than it’s worth.
“The best scenes in ‘Simon Killer’ get out of the sociopathic title character’s way and allow him to speak for himself…exception[s] in a film that can otherwise be described as a relentless and largely unrewarding descent into an ostensibly personal hell.” — Simon Abrams, RogerEbert.com
CON: But right up the alley of a very particular audience.
“‘Simon Killer’ is the sort of film, accepted by critics and a very small sliver of the moviegoing public, that establishes its daring (actually an appalling form of moral ambivalence) by cutting from a video chat between Simon and his mom to a scene of strenuous sexual intercourse with the aforementioned hooker.” — Peter Debruge, Variety
PRO: It’s an interesting spin on overdone territory.
“‘Simon Killer’ is a sensual experience that asks the audience to question what it sees and hears. In that way, Campos takes all-too-common feelings of loneliness and disorientation, and shows how they can shade into madness.” — Noel Murray, A.V. Club
At this point, you probably know whether or not you are interested in “Simon Killer.” It’s a challenging film, but many people love it. And if the prospect of falling in love with a film isn’t reason enough to go to the movies, nothing is.
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