In 2008, director Antonio Campos produced his first feature film, “Afterschool,” alongside his friends and fellow filmmakers Sean Durkin and Josh Mond.
Three years later, Campos returned the favor by producing Durkin’s feature directorial debut, the critically acclaimed Elizabeth Olsen drama “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Mond once again joined as producer.
With the new movie “Simon Killer” (now open in select cities and available with XFINITY On Demand), the filmmaker collective reunites with each other — and with “Martha” co-star Brady Corbet — for a captivating glimpse into the increasingly manic mind of a budding killer.
Campos directs Corbet as a 20-something American college student named Simon, who travels to France in hopes of clearing his head after the dissolution of a long-term relationship. Simon’s aimless travels through Paris soon land him in the arms of a mysterious prostitute (Mati Diop) who joins the lonely American in plot to rob her wealthiest client. But as his plan begins to unravel, Simon’s soft exterior gives way to hardened frustration and awakens something sinister within him.
I sat down with Campos at last year’s Philadelphia Film Festival to talk about “Simon Killer,” get inside the mind of it’s complicated antagonist and discuss the perks of working with friends.
David Onda: Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Antonio Campos: I had just the idea loosely inspired by the writing I was reading by a guy named Georges Simenon and the characters he was creating in his books. And beyond that, I just wanted to go back and make a film in [France] and wanted to do a film with Brady. I had the support of my producer Josh Mond, and also producer Matt Palmieri, and he believed in us and believed in us enough to put up money for to finish “Martha,” and then also put up all the money and come out to Paris for “Simon.”
Onda: Would you say that this film depicts the birth of a sociopath?
Campos: The birth of a killer, I would say. I would say he’s somewhere between a sociopath and a psychopath. I’d be interested to see how a psychologist would read the film, because essentially it’s about someone becoming capable of murder – like watching someone, bit by bit, unravel and become mentally capable of committing a murder. So, I don’t think he’s a serial killer, but he’s someone who – if the situation gets to a certain point, in order to survive, he would kill.
Onda: Did you do any kind of research into people like the Simon character?
Campos: We did spend some time looking at Joran van der Sloot and some other guys who had committed murders. We listened to guys that were true serial killers, like Dahmer. But then also just Joran van der Sloot, who was a kind of cocky, upper-middleclass kid who got away with it once and then did it again. Joran van der Sloot was the one we spent the most time reviewing and studying ’cause we were really fascinated by that case and there was so much footage of him to look at. And then the fact that he had just committed another murder and was arrested for that one really made him an interesting model for us.
Onda: Brady is a still-undiscovered gem in Hollywood right now. What made him right for this part?
Campos: He’s got a big heart and he’s very brave as an actor, and I think the combination of the two is what made him so perfect for this. I think that he doesn’t often get to show his heart and his vulnerable side in the films that he does and the roles that he plays, so I really wanted to give him a chance to explore all the aspects of Simon and, in that way, reveal so much more about him himself in a character that is fundamentally so far from who he is.
Onda: What are some of the little things you love about this movie that you would point out to people?
Campos: I love these little gestures in different scenes. And my favorite scene in the film is when [Corbet and Diop] are doing drugs together and he sort of hatches this plan, or plants this seed of this plan in her head, and there’s a lot of little things there. There’s one moment where Brady says, “Why take a little money from a lot of guys, when you can take a lot of money from one?” But there’s a pause before he says it, and I really always loved that pause, and right behind him is that little red cellphone that he uses to show her how this plot would work.
Onde: One of the most peculiar scenes of the movie is when Simon breaks down crying while on the phone with his mom. What kind of relationship do they have?
Campos: I think it’s a very human little moment. He’s very dependent on his mother still as a 22-year-old, 23-year-old, and he needs her protection and approval and reassurance. Maybe she’s always been there to coddle him and protect him and he knows that. It’s almost banal, but it’s I think very true. This boy has no one else to turn to except the one person that will always be there for him – his mother.
Onda: The filmmaker collective you’ve formed with Josh and Sean has proved quite successful for the three of you. Can you tell me a little bit about the collaborative process?
Campos: We’re all drawn to similar kind of characters and we’re all drawn to similar films and we all have very similar sensibilities. We’re certainly not the same filmmakers, and each one of us is making our own film, but everyone else is giving input and advising. Two others are always doing that, and also facilitating the film and making it happen. If we’re producing something, our job is to try to make it happen and also to help the filmmaker arrive at the best version of their vision as possible. So, in that sense, we’re not trying to put our own mark on it, but really just trying to help them have their voice heard in the best way possible. It’s like each one of us is trying to make sure the story and the script is as strong as possible and making sure that the filmmaker has as much as they can have at their disposal. That’s always what each one of us is trying to bring to the other. I think once Josh makes his first feature [film], you’ll see his vision, and his vision will fit within this library of films we’ve created, but it will also be uniquely his. There is a body of work, but each one speaks for itself.
“Simon Killer” is now open in select theaters and available at home with XFINITY On Demand.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.