Simon Killer, Antonio Campos’s follow-up to his impressive debut, Afterschool, is a more sophisticated, technically excellent, yet hollow film that fails to involve the audience in the story of a seriously disturbed twenty-something American trying to get over a break-up with his girlfriend by escaping to Paris.
A university student who’s studying the link between the brain and the eye, Simon (Brady Corbet) takes shelter at the sophisticated flat of a family friend. It’s clear that Simon is from the same sort of wealthy, Upper East Side background that Campos drew on in Afterschool – privileged and fucked-up, too into porn and too incapable of seeing women as anything other than one-dimensional objects. But the problem with Campos’s film is that, as Simon wanders the streets of the city, using his broken French to try and pick up girls, it’s impossible to feel anything for him. Although Brady Corbet is a compelling actor and succeeds at times in capturing an almost boyish charm, he’s playing a nasty, unappealing and unredemptive character.
Isolated and lost, Simon is eventually drawn into a sex parlour, where he meets Victoria, played by the actress and filmmaker Mati Diop. She’s easily the best thing in the film, but unfortunately her performance is wasted by an overemphasis on sex and clichés. And while the film’s title is certainly attention-grabbing, it’s slightly misleading. Simon is not quite a killer (although Campos’s intention is to explore what would make him one), but as he manipulates his relationship with Victoria, eventually moving in with her after he convinces her that he’s broke and homeless, the appalling reason for his earlier break-up becomes very clear. It just seems a shame that Campos pays so much more attention to the perpetrator rather than the victim.
That is not to say that Campos isn’t a talent to watch – he clearly is a very proficient filmmaker who has crafted a movie that looks great, has the perfect soundtrack and features exceptionally strong performances throughout. Hopefully Campos will broaden his scope to see beyond this type of narcissistic being in his future films.