Who Killed Simon Werner? becomes the underlying premise of a film that may set expectations of a gripping whodunnit in the same flavour and delivery as Rian Johnson's Brick, but alas this film by debut writer-director Fabrice Gobert is anything but your standard mystery to solve, set in a Parisian suburb school where the schoolmates of Simon get prime time in what would be a social commentary of sorts on the dynamics of youths in the 90s,
Its English title Lights Out bears not much of a meaning to the film, as what Gobert had revealed during the Q&A session that followed, and its French title which directly translates to Simon Werner has Disappeared, may have been a more powerful one even though it may be a little bit chunky, because that's how the story is set up from the start, with a discovery of a body during a teen party, before it flashes back to some 10 days before the finding. And it does so in a total of four times, each time taking on the perspective of different characters all revolving around a similar timeline and spatial distance, from football lad Jeremie (Jules Pelissier), to the school flower Alice Cartier (Ana Girardot) who had just broken up with Simon, to Rabier and finally Simon himself.
It brings us back to the time of playground politics back in school, where cliques form and students hanging out normally talk a lot of trash. Gobert's story and dialogue is top notch in this aspect, keeping it all very real and perhaps this was also made more believable through the use of very raw and new actors who act with abandon without a care in the world, just as their characters in the prime of their lives would have adopted. They talk bad about others, make fun of those deemed of a different league, have this constant fixation about girls and sex, and just about having little respect for any authority.
Each separate narrative thread provides perspective from a particular character's viewpoint, at times debunking some of the long held beliefs or baseless rumours that spring up in the earlier threads, iron our inconsistencies or reinforces certain facts that the audience can use to piece the puzzle together, as more and more students disappear one after another, building upon the mystery and perhaps our perception that there's a serial killer or kidnapper on the loose, and someone could be directly involved! Gobert keeps the viewer active in paying attention to little clues and things said, as we work things out in real time, like a police investigations drama where we're deep into the scheme of things and have the advantage of linearly reconstructing evidence, how everything would fit together, waiting for that pat on the back if we were to get it right.
To say any more will be to spoil the story for any intended viewer. This film is essential viewing even if the ending may be a little bit of a letdown without the usual build up and crescendo that its genre peers almost always like to slip into. Lights Out completes its cycle in a rather matter-of-fact fashion, very much in line with how mainstream papers' delivery of grisly news is compared to tabloid sensationalism which some will have to admit is what makes things interesting, at the expense of others. Ulitmately it's a story about perception and how things that we perceive rightly or wrongly, can so easily be treated as facts without rigourous verification, and reminds us of the usual mantra of not counting chickens before they hatch and not to judge anyone based on appearances alone which is always deceiving.
And yes the awesome soundtrack by Sonic Youth will be reason enough to watch this in the first place, this being a tremendous first time effort in terms of narrative complexity, message and technical delivery.