Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Review: How 'Simon Killer' Expands Its Filmmakers' Repertoire with One Freaky Headcase

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire January 21, 2012 at 7:59PM

In 2011, the filmmaking collective known as Borderline Films took Sundance by the storm with Sean Durkin's unsettling cult drama "Martha Marcy May Marlene," but their first major exposure began at Cannes with Antonio Campos' 2008 "Afterschool." The mysterious high school drama displayed the Borderline gang's penchant for dark narratives, long takes, and a disquieting mood closer in tone to European art cinema than anything else happening in the U.S. scene. His sophomore feature, "Simon Killer," continues along precisely the same path with far stronger results: With a dense, often impermeable style and a mentally unstable protagonist, "Simon Killer" is like watching the disturbed anti-hero of "Afterschool" all grown up.
7
"Simon Killer"
IFC Films "Simon Killer"

Editor's note: A version of this review originally ran during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. "Simon Killer" opens this Friday in limited release.

In 2011, the filmmaking collective known as Borderline Films took Sundance by the storm with Sean Durkin's unsettling cult drama "Martha Marcy May Marlene," but their first major exposure began at Cannes with Antonio Campos' 2008 "Afterschool." The mysterious high school drama displayed the Borderline gang's penchant for dark narratives, long takes, and a disquieting mood closer in tone to European art cinema than anything else happening in the U.S. scene. His sophomore feature, "Simon Killer," continues along precisely the same path with far stronger results: With a dense, often impermeable style and a mentally unstable protagonist, "Simon Killer" is like watching the disturbed anti-hero of "Afterschool" all grown up.

The cryptic nature of "Afterschool" invited nearly as much derision as praise from audiences;  the slow burn noir "Simon Killer" more clearly inhabits a single genre, making Campos' pensive style easier to qualify without broadening its accessibility. Bleakly enigmatic about the motives of its psychotic protagonist, "Simon Killer" gets cozy with one man's pathological rage.

A haunting Brady Corbet stars as the titular Simon, a young American college grad traveling Paris for no reason at all except to clear his head. An early scene reveals that Simon recently endured a harsh break-up, but his discussion with an old family friend about his academic background (his thesis explored the connection between the eye and the brain) suggests he's a levelheaded guy simply looking for the opportunity to unplug. Simon looks sad and distant, but also sane. That's the movie's central coup. The reality is significantly gloomier.  

Campos has said that he was partly inspired to create the character after reading about the murderous antics of Joran Van Der Sloot, who landed three decades in prison for killing a student in Peru. "Simon Killer" doesn't attempt to explain those actions, but with its atmospheric immersion into Simon's life, it does make a case for the way such madness can manifest itself.

After soaking in the details of Simon's drab Parisian existence, a cycle of street-wandering and late night porn sessions, Campos reaches his inciting incident. When a pimp nabs the young man off the street and introduces him to an alluring young prostitute who calls herself Victoria (Mati Diop), Simon begins to reveal his crazy side.

For no obvious reason other than boredom and a desire to act out, Simon convinces Victoria--a low key woman with a damaged past on par with Simon's--to blackmail her clients, a feat that has mixed results. The couple's attraction initially seems like the solution to Simon's isolation, with graphic sex scenes illuminating the cathartic nature of the bond for both of them. They almost make a cute pair, until they don't.

His dazed expression growing increasingly dour, Simon gradually reveals his lunacy. Corbet's performance makes that transition especially credible, shifting from introvert to neurotic headcase and finally outright dementia over the course of his downward slope.

In terms of precedents, "Simon Killer" begs comparison to "The Talented Mr. Ripley," as both movies offer cerebral portraits of demented con artists. But its precise qualities beg for the subtitle "An American Psycho in Paris," as the film bleakly explores the carefree nature of touristic indulgences. Campos keeps his distance from the character, leaving his entire motives up to debate with an ambiguous finale, but Simon's descent into insanity cleverly forces a reevaluation of everything that came before. Just as Simon treats Paris as an escape vessel, Campos renders Simon's reality in murky terms that foreground his instability.

Along with "Afterschool," Campos' second feature also features a stylistic connection to "Martha Marcy May Marlene." All three films confront issues of control. "Afterschool" deals with the impact of media to sway our judgements; "Martha" reveals the way groupthink can tamp down on individuality. "Simon Killer" lumps that perspective into a single disturbed mind so convinced of its delusions that even we can't see them until it's too late. Together they form a frighteningly modern trilogy.

Criticwire grade: A-

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Bound to divide audiences, "Simon Killer" is likely to struggle in limited release when IFC Films releases it in theaters this weekend (especially since it faces competition from the much-hyped "Upstream Color"). But it may perform decently on digital platforms due to its genre qualities and some critical acclaim.

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Sundance 2012 Reviews, Simon Killer






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

Most Read



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More