When it comes to making cinematic thrillers, there are a few ingredients required. First (and foremost), you have to have a premise that works like a thriller – something that brings the audience to the edge of their seat and keeps them there for the length required in order for them to reasonably accept the experience as a thrill. Second, while it helps to have characters, it helps even more to have characters one can relate to; without that connection – without caring about the protagonist and what he (or she) endures – there’s little attachment to the events, and, as such, the emotional impact is lost. And lastly it’s important that it all be put together in such a way as to entice the audience to want to know more – to hang with the story as it unfolds – so that the climax feels like it was destined to be.
Sadly, SIMON KILLER has none of this. Still, the filmmaker wants you to believe there’s a story here worth being told, and I don’t think there is. Certainly, there isn’t one worthy of 106 minutes.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Simon (played with obvious psychosis by Brady Corbet) is a recent college grad and failed boyfriend working out his issues abroad when he inserts himself into the life of a young, exotic socialite named Victoria (Mati Diop). Seemingly out of nowhere, he hatches a somewhat harebrained scheme for the two of them to blackmail some of her wealthy sex partners so they can live a life of leisure profiting from the sins of others.
Let me say this for SIMON KILLER because I genuinely don’t have much more that I can say about it: as a viewer, you have to buy in to a storyteller’s hogwash from the very first frame in order for this to be a journey worth taking. By that what I’m specifically underscoring is that Simon is deeply, deeply flawed but you’re apparently not supposed to know that until the very end. The problem is I knew it from the get-go, so every psychological step along the way that writer/director Antonio Campos probably believed was one big reveal after another wasn’t any big reveal for me. Given the fact that the formula was blatantly obvious, I suspect I knew this was a weird trip I wasn’t all that interested in, and, consequently, I give it low marks.
Were the performances worthwhile?
Well, given the fact that I saw through the veil held up narratively, I didn’t think so. All nuance is gone when you know that you’re watching a tragically flawed narrator go about his business not being honest with himself, nor those around him, nor the attending audience. When you know you’re being misled, then it’s hard to follow the forced tangents and curiously uninteresting side jaunts put in front of you by even the most accomplished filmmaker. As such, I’d call SIMON KILLER a massive failure.
Well, now that you’ve read my review (assuming you have), you’ll likely see through it, too. That’s the risks in reading a review once you’ve been suitably warned. I can only speak for myself when I say that nothing felt like it was unfolding organically between the first and last frames of the film, and, as such, I wasn’t captivated by it. Instead, I saw this as the glorification of a flawed psychotic who probably didn’t need my attention.
SIMON KILLER (2012) is produced by IFC Films, FilmHaven Entertainment, and BorderLine Films. DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications? Meh. The film is shot so obtusely (no doubt on purpose) that I had a hard time actually watching it without fast-forwarding through the overwrought sequences of ‘forced artistic merit’ such as Simon walking down an unending street listening to blaring music on his iPod. (Yeah, yeah, I get that it’s a metaphor; it’s just that it isn’t a very good one.) Plus, it’s frequently ought of focus and rarely, if ever, are characters logically assembled in the frame. (Again, I get that it’s a metaphor, and I’d repeat my concern if I felt it was needed.) Also, it has to be one of the worst miking jobs I’ve had the misfortune of sitting through, which came as a special surprise given the obvious highbrow nature of the storytelling. Suffice it to say that, artistically, this just wasn’t my cup of tea. For those who think it worthy, then you can explore the special features, which include a short on Antonio Campos, some behind-the-scenes tidbits, and others.
(NOT REALLY) RECOMMENDED. As I often admit, I’ve no doubt that there’s an audience for SIMON KILLER. Art festivals, film aficionados, and academics will likely warm up to its pervasively chilling atmosphere and its storytelling pace that has all the effect of a good Ambien. Writer/director Antonio Campos is likely still patting himself on the back for this twist ending, one he thinks audiences probably couldn’t see coming. I’ve got news for you, Antonio: if this is the best you can do, then SIMON KILLER had one foot in the grave before you even captured a scene on film.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of SIMON KILLER by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.