It takes a long time in “Simon Killer” before anyone uses the word “pathetic” to describe the film’s titular psychopath. But for the most part, that’s what Simon (Brady Corbet of “Martha Marcy May Marlene”) is until he proves to be something much worse in this interesting yet largely unmoving contemporary noir from Antonio Campos (“Afterschool”).
A young American drifting through Paris after a wrenching breakup with an off-screen girlfriend, Simon is introduced in the film’s most compelling scene. He’s sitting in an unidentified white room and telling a character whom we can’t see intimate details about the end of that relationship. It seems likely Simon is speaking to a therapist at some kind of clinic.
But as the camera slowly pulls back and the dialogue switches gears, it’s obvious this is not a therapy session and Simon’s confidante is essentially a stranger. The moment is a first indication that Simon, a paranoid, desperate mama’s boy with a core of rage, expects always to find a sympathetic ally to take care of him.
That emotional strategy takes a dark turn when Simon insinuates himself into the life of a prostitute named Victoria (Mati Diop). Looking like a sniffling lost puppy, he becomes the damaged Victoria’s live-in lover and partner in an ill-advised scheme to blackmail clients.
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As that half-baked plan blows up, Simon is off pursuing a “good” girl (Lila Salet), basically turning all of Paris into a setting for his (ultimately violent) psychodramas around women and intimacy.
Campos invites this sort of armchair analysis of his antihero, but he doesn’t go much deeper than that. A chilly movie with a quirky visual scheme that underscores disconnection and remoteness — Campos likes fixed medium shots that cut off heads, or slow Godard-like pans that emphasize distance between people — “Simon Killer” is self-consciousness passing for style.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com