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Review: Antonio Campos Returns with Sexy, Disturbing 'Simon Killer,' Q & A

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! April 4, 2013 at 11:45AM

"Simon Killer" marks the second feature by Antonio Campos, who previously wrote and directed the Cannes Un Certain Regard selection "Afterschool" (2008). "Simon Killer" is an icy exercise in troubled masculinity, and a bold pronouncement of cinematic style that's as strong an American indie as any in recent memory. (See IFC's Kubrickian poster below, as well as highlights from Campos' AFI FEST Q&A last fall.)
Simon Killer

"You can get so much out of a character without a traditional close-up. You can reinvent the close-up. When you finally get the close-up in this film, it really means something to see Simon's face. So much of the film is about what you don't know, and what's happening off-camera, but this comes from a realization I had as a kid [while making a short film] that focusing on different parts of the body can actually reveal more about the character."

Campos' desire to play tricks with not only the mind but also the eye is apparent from the film's first shot, as an unsettling strobe effect overlaps a panoramic view of Paris. And this is not a romantic Paris. This is seedy, gritty Paris, whose sinuous streets acquire the disturbing urban rhythms of New York in 70s cinema as Simon bed-hops and manipulates with little conscience. Almost immediately "Simon Killer" dares us to look away.

But one thing we can't look away from is the performance of Brady Corbet, who showed early promise as another kind of victim of abuse in Gregg Araki's “Mysterious Skin" (2004). Corbet plays Simon like a black hole, burying himself in the role with no reservations. Equally impressive is the sublime Mati Diop, the seductive prostitute who becomes, for Simon, more of a mother than a girlfriend.

Together Corbet and Diop engage in some squirmy sex scenes, but the ordinariness of Corbet's physique coupled with Diop's emotional nakedness (she gets battered and bruised in this movie more than once) makes for some of the film's best scenes.

One audience member asked about the physical challenges for Corbet in playing Simon. "The challenges were not so much in regards to my body which I'm not so precious about," Corbet said, "but in focusing on an incredibly deplorable character that has a pretty misogynistic worldview, I would only make a film like this with people I trust as much as [Campos]."

This article is related to: Antonio Campos, Afterschool, Simon Killer, Reviews, Reviews, Independents

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.