For a horror film, this is unusually subtle and disturbing, rather than all-out scary, quietly profiling a creepy central character in ways that are designed to provoke the audience. Yes, this sociopath is realistically sinister, but even more challenging is the way filmmaker Campos deliberately manipulates us with his clever filmmaking. Although we wait in vain for the film to deepen into something more meaningful.
It all takes place in Paris, as Simon (Corbet) arrives from America to recover from a messy break-up. A young academic, he has no difficulty chatting intelligently to strangers, but he hires the hooker Victoria (Diop) for more earthly pleasures. Then he decides that isn't enough, and worms his way into her life, making himself indispensable while encouraging her to blackmail her high-profile clients for cash. When this doesn't go as planned, Simon rekindles a romance with another young woman, Marianne (Rosseau), who isn't quite as susceptible to his charms.
Like Patricia Highsmith's iconic Ripley, Simon is a charmer who has no moral centre at all. So we like him from the start and then become increasingly troubled by his twisted actions. And what makes the film even more intriguing is the way it's impossible to tell whether his motivations are villainous or callous. Corbet plays this perfectly, letting us see Simon's darker attitudes (to him, women are little more than sex objects) and pathetic insecurities. Meanwhile, the actresses make the most of their deliberately under-developed characters.
Writer-director Campos encourages the cast to improvise dialog in English and French, which gives the film an eerily offhanded feel. It's also shot mainly in very long, intimate takes that lock into the emotions the characters are feeling. And strange visual blurs, musical jolts and strobe-flashing make it even more abrasive, which keeps us on our toes. But from early on we know that Simon is a pathological liar, so we are never deceived by his brainy charisma. And since we don't know enough about his targets to care about them either, the film becomes instead an exercise in psychological cruelty. And a very skilful one at that.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th April 2013
Box Office USA: $21.3k
Distributed by: IFC Films
Production compaines: FilmHaven Entertainment, BorderLine Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 36 Rotten: 13
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Antonio Campos
Producer: Sean Durkin, Josh Mond, Matt Palmieri
Screenwriter: Antonio Campos