The Williamsburg Guys Behind Simon Killer: The Millennial Generation's American Psycho [Q&A]

Borderline Films on their new film about an American student who goes psycho in Paris.

Still from Simon Killer

The one who was found, three days after going missing, shuddering in a corner without any clothes on. The one who left school because he started hearing voices. The one who sincerely believed that robot birds were recording his every move. These are just a few of the seemingly normal people I’ve known, who’ve dropped out of sight because of a catastrophic self-implosion brought about by mental illness. And they’re always of the same mold: in their late teens or 20s, intelligent, with a streak of moodiness, or fondness for drug-induced philosophy. Chances are, you know someone who fits the profile too.

Simon Killer, the latest by the up-and-coming Borderline Films, chronicles the descent of one such young man, Simon, as he graduates from college and moves to Paris to “find himself.” Instead, he finds strip clubs and doe-eyed prostitutes. And slowly loses his mind.

On the eve of the theatrical release of this film, I spoke with Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, and Josh Mond—the trio of Williamsburg-dwelling, 20-somethings who make up Borderline Films.

The Creators Project: Is it true that you guys do everything together, and take turns directing movies?
Antonio Campos
: It’s this organic system we have. We’re always involved in some way with each other’s works. I don’t think any of our films would be the same without contributions from the others.

What’s the longest that you guys have been separated for?
[Everyone laughs] Campos
: Sean went away for a mini series for a few months. That was a really hard period, actually.

Simon Killer trailer

What was it like to go directly from wrapping Martha Marcy May Marlene to filming Simon Killer?
Josh Mond:
We’re used to moving very quickly, and when we were doing Martha, Tony [Antonio] was talking about how he had an idea to do with Sean Brady [who played Simon], and I was like “Fuck it, let’s just go make it.”

A week later I moved to Paris to start setting up locations. Fortunately, we had these great relationships through the Cannes Film Festival that allowed us great opportunities like being able to shoot privately at the Louvre and the Museum D’Orsay.

How’d you develop this idea of a budding sociopath screwing, and screwing over, women all over Paris?
Sean Durkin:
It was an idea that had been stewing for a while, ever since I started reading Georges Simenon, to tackle an opaque male figure that’s living a mundane existence but bound to burst at some point.

Do you think this anguished male figure is a product of our times?
Durkin: The dynamic is timeless, but I really think he’s a result of his time. The ambivalence, the narcissism, are things I see pretty frequently in young men of this generation.

So it’s like a trope that existed throughout the ages, but every generation has its own iteration of this character.
Durkin: That’s exactly it.

I noticed a lot of technical trickery in this movie—like filming characters from just behind their heads, or cutting off their heads completely, or just interludes of hazy light and color. It all made me notice the ways things were being filmed just as much as what was happening on screen. Were you intentionally trying to create this effect?
Campos: I wanted your eyes to be looking for the subject, and the more the camera obstructed something, the more you’re really looking at the frame, taking in details that you may not have noticed. It was a lot more to do with my idea of being a voyeur and looking in. The camera is in a strange place and you don’t see people’s faces when you expect to. The way Simon sees the world is obstructed, and a lot of what we’re doing is reflecting that.

Is that why Simon is so obsessed with the relationship between the eye and the brain? He tells people that he studied it in college several times.
Campos: Maybe it’s because I’m a filmmaker, but there’s something about characters that are interested in observing people. Like in [our first movie] Afterschool, it was the character’s obsession with videos that informed the way he looked at the world.

The way you see Simon but don’t actually see him—there’s a disconnection between what the eyes see and how the brain takes it.

Speaking of eyes, mine kept flitting back and forth between the action and the subtitles, since half the film is in French. Were subtitles one of your visual tricks used to manipulate the audience’s perception?
Campos: Yeah it’s all part of it. Cinema is about the relationship between the eye and the brain, and we tried to capture peripheral vision and the way the brain processes that.

Language is a tool that characters used to exercise power over each other. When Simon doesn’t give a shit what Victoria [his lover] wants, he’ll stop speaking in French. There’s a great amount of loss in translation between the two of them.

So, how are you going to decide who’s directing the next movie?
Durkin: Josh should.
Campos: Yeah, it should be Josh.