Director/writer Zack Parker‘s plot-heavy thriller Proxy opens on Esther (Alexia Rasmussen), a young, expecting mother at her doctor’s appointment. Good news follows her down the street and into an alley where bad news finds her. She’s knocked unconscious, and her pregnant stomach is savagely attacked by someone with a brick, and it’s exactly as shocking and uncomfortable a scene as you’d expect. The entire first hour of the film relies on the pure dramatic value of this scene to keep your interest, and, to be fair, it does. It’s a challenge though as Esther’s character develops painstakingly slowly, meandering around her apartment until she finally reaches out at a support group where she meets another mother, Melanie (Alexa Havins), who has lost her son.
About halfway through the film, a major plot twist reveals that the two women are alike in that they have some serious, underlying issues. The complex characters become a bit confusing, and thanks to either a few errors in continuity or possibly intentionally vague editing decisions, much of the story is muddled. Proxy is the type of film that slowly reveals answers over time, but Parker and co-writer Kevin Donner seem to have flat-out forgotten to answer some necessary questions, despite the space that the film’s two-hour running time allows.
The cast has a lot to work with given their characters’ baffling motivations and constant mood changes. Rasmussen is solid as Esther, though her doe-eyes do the majority of the work, and Havins’ talents support Melanie, whose mental illness makes her character difficult to understand. It’s really their co-stars, Joe Swanberg (Patrick) and Kristina Klebe (Anika), whose performances are the most jarringly off. Though in their defense – Klebe can only do so much with the character Anika, an overtly derivative stereotype, and it’s Swanberg’s scenes that suffer from the most egregious continuity errors. Swanberg is recognizable from a much more satisfying horror film, You’re Next, in which his performance is one of the film’s best.
Proxy can be neatly divided into two halves: pre and post-twist. The first half, while not feeling entirely original, is engrossing at the least, due in part to the film’s grotesque opening. Similarly to a couple of other 21st century horror flicks centered on pregnancies, namely the French horror film Inside and Paul Solet’s Grace, the subject matter is so cruel that it can’t help but demand your attention. It’s almost as if Parker knows that this first act of Proxy has been done before, and he’s excited to flip it on its ass halfway through and trick you.
Unfortunately, the second-half “gotcha” plot based on the twist is so poorly assembled and explained that it ends up being the inferior half of the movie. If Parker had stuck with his grotesque but nonetheless captivating story of in-utero murder, perhaps Proxy could’ve balanced out as a solid film. Instead, after a laboriously intricate middle portion during which viewers desperately grasp at straws to keep up on what’s happening, the film ends with a boom, and you’re left laughing at the screen.
The Upside: The film’s opening scene and the sensitive nature of most of the story-line effectively holds your attention
The Downside: An okay mystery thriller transitions to a much worse mystery thriller halfway through; a pretty cringe-worthy segment at the film middle turning point that was clearly meant to be artistic but comes off as total cheese
On the Side: Joe Swanberg is a writer/director in his own right, but he seems to be enjoying a second career acting in his friends’ genre films.