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Sundance 2012: An independent film, by way of Natalee Holloway

January 21, 2012 |  8:30 am


If you've surfed cable news over the last several years, you've probably had one of numerous reactions to the discussion of missing American blondes. Making a film probably wasn't one of them.

Not so, however, for Antonio Campos. Representing one third of the Brooklyn movie collective Borderline Films (which yielded the 2011 Sundance breakout "Martha Marcy May Marlene"),  Campos was moved to direct his new movie -- a story titled "Simon Killer," about an American tourist in Paris traveling down a dark path -- when he came across a group of stories about Joran van der Sloot. Van der Sloot is, of course, the Dutch citizen suspected in the murder of Alabama teenager Natallee Holloway in Aruba six years ago.

"[The] thing that struck us was of a guy who'd been in the news again and again," Campos said after the Park City, Utah, premiere of "Killer," referring to the accused Holloway killer who later confessed to the murder of a young woman in Peru.  (Holloway was pronounced legally dead last week after years of fruitless searching; the details of her death remain murky.)

Among the elements Campos noted was a quote from  Van der Sloot that "'If I had to describe myself as an animal I'd say I was a snake, but I'd like to be a lion, and a lion I will be one day.'" A variation of that line made it into the movie, and the disturbing nature of the Holloway case's generally informed Campos (who produced "Martha Marcy May Marlene") as he wrote and directed this script.

A tale of a man who inflicts harm on someone he (supposedly) loves, "Simon Killer" made its debut in Park City, Utah, Friday evening, where it is seeking distribution. In the film, the titular Simon (Brady Corbet) is wounded from a recent breakup when he arrives in Paris. But after striking up a sexual, then emotional, relationship with an escort named Victoria, the character soon finds himself in a complicated situation with several women. Lying and betrayal are the least of his sins.

Corbet acknowledged that he thought a great deal about Van der Sloot when making his movie. "I can't go through beat-by-beat telling you his intentions because I'm not sure he knows his intentions," Corbet said of his character.

But he also said that he had a specific take on the antihero's sort of reverse Pilgrim's Progress. "I've described the film] as a coming-of-age story of a guy who comes of age in a really terrible way," he said.

Though the movie focuses on a prostitute, "Simon" nonetheless follows a similar trajectory as the Holloway case: namely, how seemingly innocent partying can go wrong very fast.

Cable news hasn't exactly been considered a source of inspiration for a film feature, but it hardly seems out of place here. Independent filmmakers, after all, like dark, gritty stories. And cable-news producers seem to have them in spades.


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-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Brady Corbet in Antonio Campos' "Simon Killer." Credit: Sundance Film Festival