Afterschool revealed Brazilian-American director Antonio Campos as a striking talent, but that talent feels lost and searching for a way out in his long-delayed sophomore effort. Simon Killer has much in common with Afterschool's geometric, hypnotically formal handling, working as well as an unflinching look into the heart of dysfunctional youth in modern society. But the tale of a college graduate (Brady Corbet) let loose in Paris lacks the precision, focus and drive of the earlier film; you come out of Simon Killer certainly impressed with Mr. Campos' technical skills, but wondering exactly what did you just see, and, more to the point, what was it all about.

     In a way, the film is a sort of extension of Afterschool's concern with the idea that all our relationships are now mediated through archetypes and consensual imagery; whereas in the earlier film video was used as a revelatory tool, a way to undo the status quo, here Mr. Campos walks backward from that to show that it's the human mind that is in charge of that archetype, and that images are just as powerful as the ability of the human mind to develop story-telling as an equivocal concept. Simon says he's simply a student taking some time off in Europe, after breaking up with his girlfriend, but as the film progresses it's clear there is an element of wishful thinking, a not-quite-right feeling, in his stories - especially as he takes up with prostitute Victoria (Mati Diop), whom he convinces to join him in a blackmailing scheme with a view to a future life together that he may not intend to carry through.

     In Mr. Corbet's ever-shifting performance, you see Simon as a liquid that's constantly running in and out of every container, a disquieting, coldly calculist manipulator whose ends we can never fathom and, indeed, will not have entirely realised by the open-ended dénouement. While Mr. Campos' slow-burn, disquietingly smooth handling moves forward from Afterschool, there is a sense that he himself may be like Simon, lost in a foreign city without exactly knowing what it is that he is looking for. That aimlessness is at the same time the strength and the weakness of Simon Killer: the mystery of not knowing what comes next keeps the viewer watching, as do the excellent performances of both leads, but the decision to leave everything hanging in mid-air asks the question - is that mystery a feature or a bug?

Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Lila Salet
Director: Antonio Campos
Screenplay: Mr. Campos, from a story by Mr. Campos, Mr. Corbet, Ms. Diop
Cinematography: Joe Anderson  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Saunder Jurriaans, Danny Bensi
Designer: Nicolas de Boiscuillé
Costumes: Laetitia Bouix
Editors: Zac Stuart-Pontier, Mr. Campos, Babak Jalali
Producers: Josh Mond, Sean Durkin, Matt Palmieri (Filmhaven Entertainment, Borderline Films)
USA, 2012, 105 minutes

Screened: IndieLisboa Film Festival 2013 official competition advance streaming screener, Lisbon, April 9th 2013


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