Proxy (2013) d. Zack Parker (USA)
After single mother-to-be Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is viciously attacked by a hooded assailant, she strikes up a friendship with fellow support group attendee Melanie (Alexa Havins, Torchwood). Distraught and alone, Esther grows more and more attached to her new friend, with dangerous consequences arising from their increasingly tangled relationship.
Acquired by IFC Midnight the day before its world premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, Proxy is the latest film from Parker, who wowed audiences with his innovative, mind-bending 2011 thriller Scalene. As with his previous feature, Parker continues to experiment with narrative structure and audience misdirection; indeed, around the halfway point, Proxy almost becomes a different story altogether, a device that may throw some viewers for a loop.
Similarly, the slow-burn approach and the two-hour run time may give casual fans pause. But the final result is a superbly rewarding blend of style and character study, with some Hitchcockian twists and turns along the way. (The Newton Brothers' singing, soaring strings similarly recall Bernard Herrmann and Pino Donaggio.)
Proxy plays upon the idea of substitution (all the characters seek to fill a void for something missing from their lives), but the title has a different, more insidious intent. Esther and Melanie are polar opposites, one introverted, one extroverted, but each share slightly different versions of a real-life mental condition where people harm someone else in order to gain attention for themselves.
Opposite the pairing of Havins and the remarkable Rasmussen – who at times recalls Angela Bettis’ star-making turn in May – Parker has assembled a talented ensemble of players, including You’re Next’s Joe Swanberg and Kristina Klebe (Rob Zombie’s Halloween) as a mysterious associate of Esther’s.
Generating considerable buzz are the scenes of violence visited upon Rasmussen’s character, both physical and sexual, with a graphic opening scene that may have some viewers running for the exits or reaching for the remote. Be advised that not all of the scenes are as brutal; indeed, there is a mid-film sequence that can be described as both balletic and even beautiful (though it could also evoke a titter or two due to its physics-defying blood-hose effect).
This central moment is also problematic in justifying its narrative logistics – there’s no reason for a certain character to show up with a certain tool of destruction at that certain instance, so viewers are advised to load up on their suspension of disbelief beforehand.
This mild misstep aside, Parker has created a challenging and unpredictable film that disturbs equally on intellectual and visceral levels, a rare and wonderful thing in these free-for-all indie times.
Proxy opens this Friday, April 18, in select theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine