Proxy (film review by Frank Ochieng).
Writer-director Zach Parker’s slow burn and chilly-minded ‘Proxy’ is an intensifying horror vehicle that sneaks up on one’s nervous system with its observational dark character studies and creepy tension that builds gradually while creating an understated complexity of fear. Parker’s seedy psychological pot-boiler does not have much of a meaty plot to sink its terrifying teeth but its ambitious and atmospheric gloom and doom approach is practically hypnotic. ‘Proxy’ does not benefit from a petrifying scope that feels expansively daunting per se. Nevertheless, Parker is able to convey his shocking frightfest with the right elements of sketchy traumatising glitches that highlight the eerily solid performances in this low-budget dreary drama that pushes the definitive buttons reminiscent of a vintage Hitchcockian exposition wrapped in twisting, sordid suspense.
Fittingly, ‘Proxy’ percolates convincingly when it drives home its confrontational themes when involving the severely dysfunctional and disconnected participants that wallow in Parker’s landscape of chaos and confusion. It is indeed a tricky proposition when a grisly indie feature stacks the deck with disturbing fodder concerning mental illness, domestic abuse, sexual violence and pregnancy predicaments all independent of the film’s instinctual vibe for unpredictable macabre thrills. The indescribable charm behind ‘Proxy’ is its willingness to lay low as it tacks on the small-scale brutality of step-by-step debauchery.
The unsettling story introduces us to an immensely pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) who is horrifically assaulted. As a result of this ugly incident, she ends up participating in a support group to deal with her personalised past and present tragedies in the aftermath of her critical hospitalization. Esther soon befriends the amiable Melanie (Alexa Havins) as both young women bond while having each other’s troubled emotional burdens to lean on for support. The co-dependency of the Esther-Melanie friendship will soon take an unexpected turn as deception, falsehoods, distorted ideas and waves of resentment prominently rears its nasty head. Whatever trusting union that Esther and Melanie once shared is now reduced to suspicion, rough-around-the-edge outbursts and an all-out bloody mayhem. There is no turning back as these disillusioned women and their cross-over complicated lives are meshed together in threatening, frenetic fashion.
In the case of Rasmussen’s Esther, we are detached from her initially because, by her very nature, she is a loner. Thus, Esther’s lingering childhood trauma and isolated psychotic persona is the very definition that embodies her detachment. Both Rasmussen and Havins carry the majority of the lumbering angst and physical/psychological sludge on their petite shoulders in a ghoulish yarn that resourcefully calls for grimacing bloodshed and mind-boggling human suffering. Parker adequately promotes an odd tranquility that feeds the turmoil only to competently balance out the more edgy scenes. ‘Proxy’ oozes some stylish moodiness and for the most part seems to handily shift its quirkiness and calculating overtones with unassuming intent.
Unfortunately, ‘Proxy’ does tail off a bit when the intrigue focusing on the Esther-Melanie rocky showdown is sidetracked with a miscellaneous distraction surrounding a jilted stalker looking to get into the manic mix. Plus, the concept of the support group of lost souls is not as used effectively in the deranged dramatics as one would enjoy to their liking. Parker basically skips over potentially off-kilter personalities that could have given a considerable lift to the concoction of the high hysterics making the hostility between Rasmussen and Havins’s damaged divas more comprehensive for its 2-hour jumpy presentation. Still, ‘Proxy’ dares to visit some touchy territory here and milks the cautionary warnings of humane havoc within an intimate walls of a small-time horror spectacle.
There certainly is not anything overtly flashy or flamboyant about ‘Proxy’s bold ‘boo!’ factor. However, if one can relate to the film’s psychological sabotage in the name of mental instability then maybe the horror genre can claim back some of its raw yet humble artistic merit.
STARRING: Alexia Rasmussen, Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins and Kristina Klebe
DIRECTED BY: Zach Parker
SCREENPLAY BY: Zach Parker
MPAA RATING: R
RUNNING TIME: 120 mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY: IFC Midnight
CRITIC’S RATING: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)