"The most divisive dramatic competition entry yet to screen at Sundance, Simon Killer is the second feature directed by Antonio Campos, director of Afterschool and producer of last year's Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene," begins the LA Weekly's Karina Longworth. "Like Martha Marcy, Simon is built around an attractive, enigmatic young person whose ostensible recent trauma — in this case, the titular recent college grad, played by Brady Corbet, comes to Paris in an effort to recover from a rough break-up — both muddles their vision, and complicates the film's view of their behavior. They are character studies which willfully obfuscate the truth about their main characters, psychological thrillers only offering misleading glimpses into psyches."
"Taking up with a local prostitute (Mati Diop)," writes Jen Yamato for Movieline, "Simon insinuates himself into her life driven by loneliness and longing, but piece by piece the portrait he paints of himself, to her and to the audience, starts to feel jarringly and disturbingly false…. The problem is that by the film's midpoint Simon is so unlikeable and so morally detestable that you find yourself wondering why it is you should root for this miserable little slug, or care what happens to him, or, perhaps, even stay to the end. But the end is where Campos brings it all back together and leaves us to ponder the new picture we have of our protagonist, an unreliable narrator minus the narration."
"Viewed as the next stage in Campos's development, and as an exercise in technical virtuosity, Simon Killer makes a lot of sense," finds Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Shot in long hand-held takes in the streets, bars and apartment buildings of Paris, the film is a mesmerizing sound-and-vision construction, occasionally disintegrating into hallucinogenic strobe effects or music-video interludes…. Every shot, every line of dialogue, every musical cue and every snippet of ambient sound has been considered, and is there for a reason. Corbet and Diop develop a powerful erotic chemistry that makes their characters' hackneyed situation seem real and vivid… For a long time, I was grooving so hard on the experience of watching the film that I shelved my concerns about the story it's telling, which is a predictable and overly engineered one-way trip to hell."
"I'll be frank," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club: "there's nothing all that novel about a movie that asks us to feel compassion for a protagonist who turns out to be batty. In fact, Campos did just that with Afterschool, and in a way that was more visually inventive than Simon Killer." Still, "this movie is a sensual experience that asks us to question our senses. It takes the all-too-common feelings of loneliness and disorientation and show in disturbing detail how that can shade into madness."
"Campos said post screening that Corbet's character comes out of Dutch killer Joran Van Der Sloot, but I'm not buying it as anything more than a felicitous reference to a headline," blogs Harlan Jacobson for the Boston Phoenix. "Van Der Sloot is a monster. This one's a poodle you want to kick."
For the Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, Simon Killer "is a turn-off in almost every respect…. Shrewd storytellers know how to manipulate and tease audiences in their giving and withholding of information, but Campos merely irritates with his obfuscations and parsimonious revelation of character traits and hints of what has actually taken place. At the very least, he is artistically consistent in this unrevelatory impulse: Many shots follow the back of Simon’s head, Dardenne brothers-style, as he walks through the streets, but the director keeps what lies ahead and around him deliberately fuzzy and unfocused, to unedifying, not to mention unscenic, effect."
"Whereas Afterschool was heavily structured, with a downright intricate script, Simon seems deliberately disjointed, almost improvised," writes Bilge Ebiri. "Whereas Afterschool's central character was almost catatonically passive, Simon's protagonist is intensely there, alive and fierce in his tightly-wound little way. And while actors seemed almost like an afterthought in Afterschool (the camera so often wanted to turn away from them), Simon practically hinges on the grand gestures of performance. It may not be as successful as Afterschool, but it feels rawer, more personal — a quality enhanced by its curiously unformed nature."
IndieWIRE's Eric Kohn: "Afterschool deals with the impact of media to sway our judgements; Martha reveals the way groupthink can tamp down on individuality. Simon Killer lumps that perspective into a single disturbed mind so convinced of its delusions that even we can't see them until it's too late. Together they form a frighteningly modern trilogy."
Alexandra Byer talks with Campos for Filmmaker.
Updates, 1/24: "Simon Killer feels both carefully studied and willfully unfocused," writes Michał Oleszczyk at the House Next Door. "I found it stunningly daring, refreshingly adventurous, and impossible to shake off, firmly establishing Campos as the new master of consciously hyper-crafted, dead-serious cine-angst."
"As Simon, 23-year-old actor Brady Corbet is aptly creepy, not as brutally threatening as his role in Michael Haneke's Funny Games US remake, but the casting — and the reference — is fitting," notes Anthony Kaufman in Screen.
More from Ray Greene (Box Office, 1/5), Jeremy Kay (Guardian) and Patrick Z McGavin.
Update, 1/25: "Corbet and Diop are credited, with Campos, of developing the story," notes Patrick Z McGavin, "and they are both mesmerizing. Pasty, even incoherent, Simon acquires a deeply discomfiting menace that coheres in a way both frightening and wholly believable. Beautiful, tragic and emotionally scared, Diop is sensational as a broken angel of deliverance."
Update, 1/27: Bilge Ebiri talks with Corbet for Vulture.