Before the successful run on the festival circuit, before the critical acclaim and certainly before the awards season ubiquity, the team behind what would become the surprise hit Martha Marcy May Marlene was already back at work, cranking out another haunting tale of confused youth.
Finally, over a year later, their work will be seen by the world.
Antonio Campos is one three filmmakers that make up the New York-based collective Borderline Films, an indie production company that makes ambitious -- and often morally murky -- movies on a budget. Campos co-produced Martha, the cult-set film that earned Elizabeth Olsen her star and was directed by Borderline's Sean Durkin. Even as he helped shape that movie -- which co-starred John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy and Brady Corbet -- he was brainstorming another, teaming up with Corbet to outline what would become Simon Killer.
"There’s nothing kind of overnight about anything we’ve done, so it doesn’t feel like that," Campos, who has now directed two features and produced two more, tells The Hollywood Reporter, over coffee in New York. "And as successful as Martha was, it’s still all very relative. We’re not millionaires. We get better script offers, but the fact is we’re still fighting to do the films that we want to make."
Just weeks after Martha wrapped, the pair was in Paris, prepping and then filming -- on a tight 24-day schedule -- their movie, in which Corbet stars as a brokenhearted recently college graduate who gets entangled with a desolate prostitute and a young French student.
Campos is a true cinephile, equally as interested in the visual as the storytelling, and his movie is steeped in dark tones and bleeding red transitions. Shot on digital, it is still rich, which he regards as a must.
"We never wanted to approach anything as a mumblecore movie," the director says, knocking the low budget, lo-fi films that have come from filmmakers in his own native New York. "There’s always this sort of thing that we consider cinema that we never want to cheapen, so there is that part of it that we aesthetically going to try, things that are formal and cinematic. And working with smaller budgets, it takes more preparation to do those things to be what you want them to be."
Along with the issues of a small budget and artistic preparation French system of filming permits and strong guilds presented a challenge to the pair, who were more used to guerilla-style filmmaking, which much of Simon -- with its dark and brooding shots on the streets of Paris -- appears to be. Location permits require a week in France, whereas in New York, it is just 24 hours notice. But each had lived in the City of Lights for a time, and so they had ins with crews and different government officials that could help smooth any difficulties.
Brooding and in nearly every scene, Simon lacks a sense of right and wrong, cheating and lying, and is a mix of desperation and sociopathy, a composition scaled by how much empathy you might have for him.
"Simon seems, I think, more foreign than he actually is to most people," Campos says. "A lot of young men can relate to poor decision making and even the manipulative quality of Simon."
It is a difficult film, with few laughs and uncomfortable interactions, troubling for an audience that cannot contain the self-destruction -- and the collateral damage it inflicts -- happening on screen.
"It was clear to us that this was a character that had no moral compass. We knew that," Corbet says. "Now why he doesn’t have a moral compass, we’re not so interested in. Because I think that there’s a thousand reasons he doesn’t have a moral compass, and I also think just maybe physiologically he is someone who seems to be incapable of feeling real empathy."
The movie premiered to mixed reaction at Sundance in 2012 -- some loved its dark nature, others found it too bleak and pretentious -- and has been awaiting release by IFC Films, which bought it at that festival. In the mean time, Corbet continues to be hard at work; he will also appear in this year's Sleepwalker, which he co-wrote, and is in the middle of shooting the film Paradise Lost, in which he plays the brother of a young surfer who gets caught up selling drugs for Pablo Escobar. The late Colombian drug lord is being played by Benicio Del Toro. Paradise Lost, Corbet says, does not have any drugs it, quite incredible for the subject matter.
That film is being shot on the remote Panamanian island of Bocas del Toro, which also hosted the production of Mister Lonely. That film's director, Harmony Korine, has a strong connection to the island -- his parents now live there. Corbet says that he got to spend time with the senior Korines, following a phone call from Harmony, who had been alerted that Paradise Lost was filming there by Corbet's mother.
"You have to take an ATV to get to the property," Corbet explains. "They used to have to get to their house on horseback, and it is so so so deep into the jungle. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. It was crazy. It was really really something."
Simon Killer is out in select theaters on Friday.
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin