Simon Kinnear reviews Simon Killer
Only two Ns and an A away from my name, but a world apart in terms of mood and characterisation. At least, I hope so.
(Antonio Campos, 2012)
If you review films long enough, chances are that eventually you’ll review one that has your name in the title. I’d always assumed it would be an existing film that I hadn’t seen – Bunuel’s Simon Of The Desert – until a new pretender came along that manages to nearly sound like my surname as well as my first name.
So: Simon Kinnear, meet Simon Killer, the tale of an overeducated slacker who wanders aimlessly around Paris, shacks up with a prostitute and starts an ill-advised amateur blackmail racket. Marvellous. It makes me pine for the days when the worst of my troubles was getting mistaken for gay artist Simon (Kinnear) out of As Good As It Gets.
Given its status as near-namesake, I wish I liked Antonio Campos’ film more, but it’s the kind of story that goes out of its way to be difficult in order to appear more sophisticated. It has that 1970s vibe of being a character study with zero interest in a wider narrative, becoming increasingly insular and abstruse just as it was promising to become about something more than merely one dislikeable guy’s sociopathy.
Whereas, say, Taxi Driver (an obvious influence) presented a portrait of 1970s New York and post-Vietnam America, Simon is so studied and apathetic to stand for everything. Instead, he is dulled by indolence and veiled misogyny into a life of walking the streets, his hip electropop sounstrack turned up to maximum to try and coax himself out of his ennui. In other words, it’s like a Bret Easton Ellis story without the humour.
Campos draws two smart performances from Brady Corbet as Simon, and 30 Shots of Rum’s Mati Diop as his partner in bed and business – and the fact that the two have story credit explains the languorous pacing and fearless, uncomfortably explicit shared scenes. It feels admirably raw and improvised. Even so, Campos has settled on alienation as both theme and leitmotif, and conspires to frame the film so that the actors’ faces – and, frequently, their entire heads – are outside the frame. There are only so many times you can watch the back of Corbet’s head while he strolls along before it becomes a bad Gus Van Sant parody.
True, the film has a strong sense of geography, portraying a seedy, decidedly non-touristy vision of Paris: the film’s best shot sees Simon at the Louvre looking at the Mona Lisa, but the audience’s vision is obstructed by a dozen camera phones. Similarly, the use of music – switching tracks mid-scene as Simon impatiently shuffles his iPod – has a laconic thrill in keeping with the study of a hipster with too much time on his hands. But, ultimately, Simon remains too blank, and Campos’ distance too remote, for this to catch fire.
Meanwhile, I’ve recently received a press release about a new ‘alien abduction film’ called The Search For Simon. According to the blurb, this is “a comedy science-fiction feature film about a man named David and his lifelong search for alien life. When David was 10 years old, his younger brother Simon disappeared from his life forever. His father told him that Simon ‘now lives with the space people.’” Give me strength.