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Daily Archives: January 20, 2012
After “Afterschool,” Antonio Campos was a director to watch. When Campos helped “Martha Marcy May Marlene” happen as a producer, it was one more laurel to his name. And “Simon Killer,” debuting at the 2012 Sundance film festival, Campos has given us a film that’s not, at first, as visually exciting or scandalously shocking as “Afterschool”; instead, “Simon Killer” works its way under the skin with the wormy squirmy slowness of a parasite, or an infection — and does so not by how much it shocks us, but, rather, through how much we’ve come to know our lead character, even as it becomes apparent that he is leading us to bad places.
In Paris, Simon (Brady Corbet) is roaming around, post-school, post-break-up. Simon seems nice enough — a little troubled, a little at odds. But Simon is not alright, and a lesser film would rush ahead to establish that. Instead, “Simon Killer” takes us into Simon’s attempts — to be happy, to be in love, to have fun — and we hope for him even as we’re wincing at him, until we aren’t doing either. We spend a lot of the film with Simon — and not simply what could have been the indie-cliché following-the-back-of-your-head shots used. Simon’s iPod choices and interior monologue both ring out constantly, and we’re drawn into his world even as we realize that isn’t the best place to be. Simon is played by Brady Corbet, who previously played a young killer in “Funny Games.” There, Corbet’s cartoony killer was as funny as he was frightening, literally winking at the camera. Corbet goes after something else here, and finds it.
Directed and otherwise shaped by Gerardo Naranjo (who co-wrote the film and edited it) “Miss Bala” hinges on the Spanish wordplay in its title. Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman, an ex-model) is the oldest child of a motherless home and intends to do something about her modest circumstance in Baja California, Mexico, by entering the Miss Baja beauty pageant. It’s a decision that pulls her into the world of drugs and money and power, bounced between American DEA agents, Mexican police, border-crossing gangs and other interested parties all while she’s trying to find the right dress and smile the right smile.
Bullets — or, in Spanish, balas — fly, and the true plot here is that of a pawn being dragged across a geopolitical chess board by many coarse and crimson-stained hands until she literally becomes a queen. Unlike Soderbergh’s “Traffic,” “Miss Bala” doesn’t hop and skip around the war on (and, also, the more bullet-slinging war over) drugs between characters or sides or ideologies. The film, and the camera, focus on Laura, literally, as the long takes and epic battles and quiet threats of the film all unfold around her.