I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: thank God for Spring Breakers. If I hadn’t seen that PCP trip of a film in theaters, I would have never been exposed to the trailer for Simon Killer, a knockout psychosexual thriller in the proud tradition of Blue Velvet and Shame.
Told almost as a modern-day version of the novel In a Lonely Place, Simon Killer places us with a young American man fresh upon arrival in Paris (or so he says). He is struggling with getting over his ex, and falls in love with a French prostitute, also with (literal) scars. As seen in the trailer (so no spoilers), the two devise a scheme to blackmail her clients for cash. This doesn’t quite work out.
The narrative, though, is secondary to the extraordinary and wholly disturbing vision that is presented to us. The sex scenes, while erotic, are almost joyless, with Simon’s lovers’ heads often out of the shot, giving us a view of Simon leering at their nude bodies, or forcing them to turn around and face the opposite way, further dehumanizing his sexual partners.
The unique experience of this film is further developed through the contrast of highly cinematic, “fake”-feeling camera work with exceptionally neorealistic dialogue and acting. The very long shots feel as if we could be there watching live, but with the slight disconnect of a perfectly framed angle, or smooth turns bridging opposite characters or ends of the room.
The focal point of the film, of course, is Simon himself, delivered in a fantastic performance by Brady Corbet (who you may recognize from Thirteen). He is nearly impossible to take your eyes off of, and gives a remarkably rich and believable portrayal of a womanizer, criminal, and yes, killer.
Simon Killer is also extraordinary in how much it takes us by surprise – we rarely get films, either studio or independent, which places us with your everyday man who has the potential to kill. Recalling earlier events, I can now look back and see how we were given clues that Simon could be a criminal all along, but an audience is often unwilling to accept that our narrator, our door to this experience, is capable of such terrible acts. We share in his experience but don’t want to bear the guilt of his actions. The film lets off a chilling conclusion and a sense of fluidity, that these events have likely happened before and will probably happen again.
Simon Killer is a shining (?) dark spot in a year of film that was largely optimistic and happy-go-lucky. It offers a very fresh take on the traditional narrative and gives us an unforgettable cinematic experience.