Film Review: ‘Proxy’

Proxy Review

This bizarre, compelling thriller skirts horror and black-comedy terrain without quite surrending to either.

Audacious twists make the initially unpromising thriller “Proxy” grow more bizarre and compelling as it goes along. Skirting horror and black-comedy terrain without quite surrendering to either, the pic proves rather bracing even if it doesn’t hold up to much plot-logic scrutiny: This narrative is plausible only so long as you accept that anyone and everyone onscreen might have a homicidal maniac lurking inside them. Commencing a limited theatrical release and simultaneous VOD launch on April 18, following extensive fest travel, this accomplished guilty pleasure probably won’t achieve more than modest cult favor, but should nonetheless be a profile-raiser for director/co-scenarist Zack Parker, whose three prior features flew under the radar.

Heavily pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) seems an odd candidate for motherhood, being rather sullen, withdrawn and awkward around other people — and that’s before, when walking home from an OB-GYN appointment, she’s knocked unconscious and savagely beaten in an alley. Armed with a brick, her assailant pays particular attention to the womb area, provoking a premature stillbirth. This presumably traumatic event doesn’t appear to affect Esther as one might expect. But in simple obedience to the urgings of hospital workers concerned about her apparent lack of any friends or family (she identifies the baby’s father as “the sperm bank”), she attends a 12-step-type meeting of parents recovering from various child-related tragedies.

There, she’s aggressively befriended by Melanie (Alexa Havins), a picture-perfect blonde suburban wife and mother who says her son was kidnapped a year earlier, his fate still unknown. But a chance crossing of paths later on reveals Melanie’s circumstances aren’t what she claims. Is she some kind of morbid grief junkie, addicted to other people’s crises?

Strangely, this jarring discovery doesn’t anger or alienate Esther, but only makes her more intrigued by her new (perhaps only) “friend.” Her interest takes an unexpected turn that brings Melanie’s husband, Patrick (Joe Swanberg), into the increasingly twisted loop. Meanwhile, we’ve also met Esther’s apparent spouse, Anika (Kristina Klebe), an intimidatingly butch customer who’s been lying low for various reasons, not least of them a recent prison stint. She’s the one character among our principals whose violent sociopathy is right on the surface, not buried beneath a misleadingly “normal” or victimized front.

The developments grow more macabre, as everyone acquires their own revenge agendas and proves quite willing to transgress violently in realizing them. En route, some plot holes are left unfilled, while character backgrounding and psychological detailing are not priorities in Parker and Kevin Donner’s screenplay. Still, the diabolical reversals of fortune and the tightly controlled, cruelly dispassionate directorial tenor — striking a Hitchcockian chord, as does the Newton Brothers’ Bernard Herrmann-like orchestral score — will keep most viewers off-kilter enough that they won’t think too hard about the film’s overall credibility. That is, they will if they stick with the pic past its opening reel, which may put off many not just with its brutality against the unborn, but also the way it asks us to identify with an unappealing, disconnected, almost zombie-like protagonist. Among the film’s eventual charms, however, is its willingness to abruptly shift perspective from one character to another.

Shot, like Parker’s prior pics (“Interchange,” “Quench,” “Scarlene”) in his native Indiana, “Proxy” has few frills and doesn’t need them; stylistically, it aims to be sharp and simple as a knife. Performances are solid, with Klebe gleefully punching across a potentially offensive lesbian stereotype. One shot of lethal weapon Anika furiously doing situps, a lit cigarette dangling from her mouth, underlines that both movie and thesp have found a useful midpoint between straight-faced menace and knowing parody.

Film Review: 'Proxy'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 29, 2014. Running time: 117 MIN.

Production

An IFC Midnight release of an Along the Tracks Prods. presentation in association with FSC Prods. Produced by Zack Parker, Faust Checho. Executive producer, Mike Khamis. Co-executive producers, Martin Donner, Dan Hardy, Tom Hawker.

Crew

Directed, edited by Zack Parker. Screenplay, Kevin Donner, Parker. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Jim Timperman; music, the Newton Brothers; production designer, Cameron Bourquein; art director, Sean Richard Budde; sound, Sonny Wingler; assistant director, Jim Dougherty.

With

Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havins, Kristina Klebe, Joe Swanberg, Xavier Parker, Shayla Hardy, Jennifer Phillips, Faust Checho, Erika Hoveland, Dianne Bischoff, Kitsie Duncan, Brittant Wagner, Jim Dougherty, Adam King, Jason Nelson, Rachel Illingworth, Samantha Eilen Deturk, Erica Stikeleather, Adam Stephenson.
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  1. Reblogged this on HORROR BOOM and commented:
    This looks pretty horrifying. If you don’t think so, you haven’t seen the opening, which is BRUTAL and I advise you not to watch if you’re pregnant or you’re a loved one of someone who is. Then again, I read a series of posts on the IMDB boards for INSIDE that basically said this:

    Guy #1: Hey, my wife is pregnant and about 6 months in, but we want to rent and see this movie together, would you recommend it in our case or is it too potentially upsetting?
    Me: Hey, guy #1, when it comes to watching Inside when your wife is due to give birth in a couple months HOW ABOUT NO? I saw it when I was not pregnant (never been pregnant or plan to) and I was so scared that the last 5 minutes I actually started to cry, OK? And you’re talking to a very, very jaded horror fan who owns copies of some of the most fucked-up movies, from all over the world, ever made. You COULD watch it now, but I would not recommend it, in fact I literally cannot think of a worse movie to watch when you’re pregnant (and yes, I’ve seen the rare uncut version of “A Serbian Film”. That’s my advice.
    Guy #2: yeah, I’d say it’s fine. Go ahead and watch it together. I saw it when my sister had just found out she was pregnant, and it didn’t bother me.
    Me: No, seriously, unless you’re popping Xanax, which you can’t because you’re pregnant. Oh, and just to let you and your third-trimester pregnant wife know, even without the whole “woman attempting to cut out the heroine’s baby with a giant pair of shears” plot line, it’s one of the bloodiest, most gory movies I’ve ever seen. By the last half hour of the movie, everything/everyone that can be covered with blood, IS covered in blood. When I watched the “making of” extra, several times the main actress (in her 20s) had to take a break because she couldn’t stop crying when a scene was being set up. Just wait. Even the R-rated version is very brutal.
    Guy #1: Yeah, I’m gonna rent it now, she says it won’t bother her.
    Guy #2: Cool, dude. Hope you guys enjoy the movie!
    So anyway, yeah, well be watching this when it comes out on VOD April 18th. I’ll post the link to the opening some point soon– if you must see it RIGHT NOW then Dread Central has the clip posted in HD (with a bunch of warnings prefacing it).

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