Discussion about the title of a film is not something that generally finds its way into a film review, and with good reason. The title of a film is usually somewhat extraneous to the actual experience of watching the feature and its importance lies outside of the film itself. Much like the marketing that surrounds any production, the title is part of what gets many people into the cinema and sat in front of the screen. The title Simon Killer is a different beast though, and it may be the most distracting title of a film that I have seen in some time. Settling down in front of this film it is impossible to shake the implications that the name suggests and this can ultimately lead to a sense of frustration and anxiety, and whether this is a negative or positive aspect is, however, certainly debatable.
As the titular character of Simon, played with cool detachment by Brady Corbet, meanders around Paris he interacts with a variety of people in an awkward and often angry manner. With each interaction one sees the potential for violence – a feeling egged on somewhat by the foreboding title. What is rather effective about Simon Killer, and is perhaps its greatest strength, is the way in which we are fed constant anti-climaxes. The multiple connecting vignettes that make up this structured but loose narrative each carry with them this approach, but some end with a sense of conclusion or continuation while others are simply cut off. It’s a bold and interesting approach to telling the story but it is also one that does not entriely work. Whilst the sense of frustration and disconnect feeds directly into this character study of the disturbed Simon, it also leads to genuine frustration and disconnect that leaves one feeling unsatisfied by the story on screen.
Director Antonio Campos, director of Afterschool and producer of the similarly arch Martha Marcy May Marlene, does manage to hold ones attention though with his measured but stylistic approach to the look and sound of the film. By filling the film with a number of question raising moments and anti-climaxes there is also enough to keep this title moving forwards, towards an ending that is, perhaps unsurprisingly, both one of escalation and borderline nihilistic destruction.
Much like Camus’ L’Etranger – both the character of Simon and the storytelling of Simon Killer seem to recall this (in)famous text – Simon Killer’s detached protagonist is incredibly difficult to engage with but unlike the dense character study of L’Etranger – a story which offers a fascinating insight into a deeper philosophical idea – Simon Killer merely skims along the surface of a great deal of interesting ideas. The themes of anti-romanticism that Campos dips his toe into seems more like a cute idea with the Paris setting, for instance, providing a neat little gag rather than a platform on which to explore something deeper. At its worst Simon Killer is as juvenile as the behaviour of its central character, but thankfully its weaker moments are reasonably scarce and for the most part the film is an interesting, if a little surface level, character study that is difficult to shake off as it reaches its inevitable, anti-climatic finale.