London Film Festival, 2012-10-20
Giving a film’s plot away in its title: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford did it. So, with greater economy, did Snakes on a Plane. Here we have Simon Killer, about a guy called Simon, who’s a Killer. It’s a good thing we know this early on, because without the sense of “when he’s going to do it, and who’s he going to do?” Antonio Campos’s introspective follow-up to the nervy, pervy Afterschool might just die of a tension deficit disorder.
We’re in the sort of Paris that Americans with a Hemingway bent still hanker after – of cafes and night-time and fun, of bordellos staffed by pretty young things, not a pimp to be seen, everything’s warm, bohemian, nice. Into this milieu drops our hero, an “a-hero” in fact, an affectless lump of passivity, a premature ejaculator and mother’s boy who is mentally composing and recomposing the killer letter to the girl who recently dumped him, hoping to deliver a stiletto sleeved in “miss you” language.
He meets some girls, they give him a cool reception – partly because he doesn’t speak French too well; partly because he’s creepy. He ends up in a red-light bar, where he meets a pretty young girl. Before you can say “needy” he’s talked his way into staying at her place, and their relationship goes from being hooker and client to something resembling boyfriend and girlfriend. Meanwhile, unlovely Simon is now on the sniff after another girl, one whom he also charms, and also borrows money off, because being broke is another of Simon’s charmless attributes.
Campos shows his mettle in these opening introductions to Simon’s seedy existence, as does Brady Corbet, whose performance is the sort you’d never get out of a star – there’s really nothing to admire in Simon at all, unless you like feckless spongers. As his hooker/girlfriend Mati Diop (you might remember her from Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum) is possibly too gorgeous to be playing a low-rent whore but hers is also a performance of total commitment, by which I don’t just mean that she takes her clothes off a fair bit when she’s not plausibly shooting the improvisational breeze with Corbet.
So is Mati going to die? Or is it going to be the other girl? Or someone else entirely? As I said earlier, the title delivers the tension in this film, which does little to deliver it by other means. Simon Killer has lots to recommend it – the performances, the Kafka-esque slow reveal of Simon’s true nature, the claustrophobic Parisian atmosphere – but the film wanders off on plotlines that should simply be cut; it’s 15 minutes too long. For a character as slippery as Simon the windiness of The Assassination of Jesse James etc etc isn’t what you need, it’s a shorter, sharper Snakes on a Plane punch.
© Steve Morrissey 2012