mon 30/03/2020

Simon Killer | reviews, news & interviews

Simon Killer

Simon Killer

Brady Corbet's American psycho in Paris leads a queasy, sinewy thriller

Gap Year: Corbet's solo traveller is far from a wounded soul looking for love

Blunted affect is one of the more troubling symptoms associated with certain kinds of mental illness – the face becomes a mask, the voice becomes a monotone and the eyes, far from windows into the soul, turn shuttered and dark. It’s this uneasy sense of vacancy, in both the lead character and the film’s attitude to his behaviour, which gives stranger-in-a-strange-land thriller Simon Killer its queasy power. 

Blunted affect is one of the more troubling symptoms associated with certain kinds of mental illness – the face becomes a mask, the voice becomes a monotone and the eyes, far from windows into the soul, turn shuttered and dark. It’s this uneasy sense of vacancy, in both the lead character and the film’s attitude to his behaviour, which gives stranger-in-a-strange-land thriller Simon Killer its queasy power. 

Simon (Brady Corbet) is a recent college grad taking a "gap summer" in Paris, where he roams the street solo with only his iPhone earbuds for company, nursing the wounds of a recent breakup with his high school sweetheart. These early scenes are an arresting portrait of the disorientating solo-travel experience, but it soon becomes clear that this isn’t a familiar story – Simon is not a sensitive wounded soul searching for connection in the most romantic city in the world. He latches onto mysterious local prostitute Victoria (Mati Diop), and also hits it off with a pretty young student (Constance Rousseau), but nonetheless connection is not in his emotional vocabulary at all.

Simon (Brady Corbet) and Victoria (Mati Diop) in Simon KillerHis playlist is crucial; the soundtrack here gives the film its beating heart in the same way as electro-synth ran in the veins of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, and here it emphasises Simon’s disconnect from the world around him. Many of us may have experienced guilt in a foreign city as we walk around plugged into our own personal sound-homes, effectively shutting out half of the experience we should be having; here music seems to signify a switching-off in our lead character’s unsettled psyche, a moral blurring.

In a key moment between Simon and Victoria, he asks to change the music that’s playing in her flat. With that shift in tempo comes a dangerous turning point in the narrative.

Director Antonio Campos was one of the producers of last year’s remarkable Martha Marcy May Marlene, which tracked a young woman’s psychological crumbling after escaping an abusive cult, while Martha’s director Sean Durkin is a producer here. There’s a comparable confidence in Campos’s gradual unfolding of Simon’s psychosis, and a similarly uneasy sense of profound terror underlying a seemingly placid surface.

The difference here is that we’re following the source of the terror, rather than a pitiable victim of it, and as such Simon Killer is a tougher watch even than the incredibly disturbing Martha. Corbet’s fascinating to watch, though, and despite Simon’s monstrous lack of affect he’s never invulnerable. There’s a lot at work here about masculinity, and a sense of anxiety about being a boy rather than a man; he repeatedly hits up the women he’s with for money, and in one scene literally cries for his mother. He’s an alienated and alienating character, and this chilling character study is near-impossible to love but easy to admire. 

Watch the trailer for Simon Killer

Music seems to signify a switching-off in our lead character’s unsettled psyche, a moral blurring

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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