Judge Daryl Loomis went to see the Eiffel Tower, but when it was red with a cowboy hat on top, he realized he was still in Texas.
I don't like the way you're looking at me.
It has become increasingly common for our common entertainment to feature disreputable or downright evil characters in lead roles. They aren't just antagonists for us to hate while we root for the good guys, either; they are the reason we watch. When it's a masterwork of characterization, such as Breaking Badâ€˜s Walter White, it can make for some of the most compelling stories around. In other, less capable hands, however, it becomes quite clear how difficult a road it can be to get audiences to care. If there's nothing good in the world, what is the point in watching? This is the problem we find in Simon Killer, a perfectly well made production that suffers from its own darkness.
Simon (Brady Corbet, Melancholia) is a recent college graduate who, after an apparently rough breakup with his girlfriend, goes to Paris for a little down time. Lonely and depressed, he finds himself in a brothel one night where he meets Victoria (Mati Diop, 35 Shots of Rum). He pays her for a brief good time, but clings onto her and gets her to agree to bring him home. Soon, they have a real relationship, but Simon quickly starts to show his true colors. He might not want to admit it to himself, but there's a vicious monster within him that is aching to get out and will do anything to emerge.
First, the good. Director Antonio Campos (Afterschool) has put together an assured, great looking, well-shot movie in Simon Killer. The scenes, almost across the board, are thoughtfully composed and nicely realized, and they're punctuated with an excellent performance from Brady Corbet. It's nice to look at, well-acted, and the talent is apparent everywhere on the screen.
The trouble is that the story is basically worthless. It's not poorly written, necessarily, but it has no value. It's clear from the first scene that Simon is a creep and, with every action, it becomes clearer and clearer what he is under the surface. I certainly have no problem watching monsters on screen, of course, but there has to be something to push against that. Without it, it becomes wanton; it's just watching an awful person be awful. No redemption, no growth, no depth and, really, no character.
All of that combines makes Simon Killer more of an exercise than a fully-realized movie. It's violent, dark, and sometimes very subtly done, which means that I have to support it on a certain level. The problem is that, when there's nobody to root for and nothing to care about, it becomes all about the film's style and, while all that's apparent on the screen, it doesn't really make up for the watching the dull adventures of a sociopath in Paris, at least not for me.
MPI and IFC Films present a decent DVD for Simon Killer. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is sharp, with realistic colors and flesh tones. There's a little bit of an artificially grainy look, but it doesn't distract. The surround mix is very average and has little to do, but it's by no means bad. The only work in the rear channels, though, is music and some occasional ambient sound, but the dialog is crisp and clear on the front end. It's fine, but nothing special.
Extras present an interesting look behind the scenes at the movie. "Antonio Campos and the Case of the Conscious Camera" is an interesting long-form interview with the director in which he talks about his theory behind his shooting style, detailing the way he sets up shots and what the point of method is. A behind-the-scenes featurette is not your typical look at a film. With alternate takes, production footage, and other snippets, it's more of a short film than a traditional featurette. The funniest extra is called "Conversation with Moms," in which the director and the producer get together with their moms to discuss why they make the kinds of things that they do. A photo gallery and the film's trailer finish out the supplements.
I'm sure that there's a section of people who will appreciate both the story and the style, but I only have time for the latter. It looks good and Campos shows a lot of talent in his second feature film, but I don't see the point in watching awful people be awful with no sense of change, growth or, really, even plot. Mostly, the overkill of unrepentantly awful behavior just makes Simon Killer boring and a slog for me to work through. The strength of the direction and the conviction in the performances are too much for me too really dislike that much; I just never want to see it again.
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