After a traumatic break-up with his high school sweetheart and long-term girlfriend, recently graduated American student Simon (Brady Corbet) heads to Europe for the Summer to lick his wounds, get his head together and soak up some culture.
Adrift in Paris, Simon wanders the streets alone, alienated, disengaged, until he’s lured into a strip club-cum-brothel where he meets vulnerable prostitute Victoria (Mati Diop), first paying for sex then entering into a tentative romance with her.
As the two become closer, Simon hatches a dangerous scheme to blackmail Victoria’s customers. But as Simon’s plan spirals out of control and Victoria becomes increasingly needy, Simon’s genial mask of sanity slips, hinting at the callous, fledgling sociopath lurking beneath.
Beautifully shot, cold and morally ambivalent, Antonio Campos’ second featureSimon Killer is an icy, ambiguous exercise in voyeurism and manipulation that aims to leave you as alienated as its vacuous, amoral protagonist.
With his bland, all-American hipster good looks, surface charm and underlying creepy neediness Simon could be any privileged, middle class kid on a Gap year; that friendly, if boring, Mid-Western jock sat on the stool at the end of the bar after hours in O’Neill’s, that overly chatty guy at the urinal next to you with no regard for personal space or splashback, that creepy stalker haunting the fringes of the dance floor.
It’s just that instead of wandering round the Far East smoking dope, wearing tie-dyes and questioning his sexuality after a drunken fumble with a ladyboy, Simon sexually and financially exploits a Parisian hooker and then beats her half to death before heading home to Mom.
Sexually explicit but profoundly unerotic, Campos’ Simon is a portrait of disaffected, alienated, amoral youth. Callow and serious, he’s self-absorbed and humourless, impossibly seems to be having less fun than the audience and, as wonderfully played by Corbet, he’s a glib, compulsive liar and spineless coward. Simon is a fantasist, a voyeur with hidden shallows, and Corbet reflects the audience right back at themselves with his dead-eyed stare. Mati Diop as Victoria is sweet and vulnerable; she’s every privileged, middle class kid’s fantasy woman, the stereotypical fabled hooker with a heart of gold. Their doomed amour fou while predictable is undercut with amounting sense of dread and unease.
Wintry and mesmerising without ever being engaging, Simon Killer has plenty of Simon but precious little killing and manages to make being fingered by a Parisian hooker look unexciting.