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Proxy | Blu-ray Review

Zach Parker Proxy Blu-ray Cover ReviewAfter receiving a sturdy critical response at it’s world premiere at the ’13 edition of the Toronto Int. Film Festival, followed by an unceremonious theatrical and VOD run this past spring, indie filmmaker Zach Parker’s latest film, Proxy, makes its way to Blu-ray. A blotch of red dominates the eerie cover, an ultrasound beamed out of the profile of Alexia Rasmussen’s face. It’s a striking image that recalls the pregnancy terror of a recent horror classic, Inside (2007). And yet, Parker’s concept is more intriguing and original, sandwiched into vintage motifs that recall a series of masters of the genre from decades past. A snazzy quote from the Los Angeles Times heralds the film to be “a worthy successor to Rosemary’s Baby.” But beyond the pregnancy theme, Parker’s film has little to do with the Ira Levin reference, and is, in fact, eerier than the hundreds of Rosemary knockoffs in that the supernatural makes no appearance whatsoever. Snyder has mounted a unique endeavor, and while several major faults are too insistent and too obvious to shower unanimous praise, it’s a refreshing title in a genre reduced to cheap cliché or hokey jokes. Titles like this are what horror hounds will grovel through heaps of trash to discover.

Opening with a scene of visceral brutality that’s as sure to get lodged uneasily in your subconscious as it is to grab your rapt attention, the film unfolds with eerie precision until a mid-point switcheroo that provides a tipping point for the film spilling from art-house worthy genre to ludicrous exercise that dwindles into ridiculousness. At times tasteless and potentially offensive (those that prize politically correct representations may find the course of events rather homophobic and undoubtedly misogynist even as Parker clues us in on the black comedy he’s going for), the film is also strikingly unpredictable, utilizing violence effectively.

Just weeks away from giving birth, Esther Woodhouse (Rasmussen) is brutally beaten by an unknown assailant who seems to have targeted the unknown child growing inside her. Suffering a miscarriage, Esther is without a support system in her personal life and decides to attend a support group for grieving parents. There, she meets the sprightly Melanie (Alexa Havins), who takes an interest in the withdrawn Esther. While the two women bond, Esther accidentally observes a strange incident involving Melanie in public, but doesn’t choose to reveal what she saw. But, suddenly, Esther’s girlfriend, Anika (Kristina Klebe) is apparently released from prison and doesn’t seem too enthused about Esther’s new friend. Then things get violently odd and very strange.

Ultimately, Proxy doesn’t feel entirely successful, especially when the rather long winded set-up passes and switches perspectives. Initially, the film is reminiscent of Lucky McKee’s excellent 2002 film, May, as Alexia Rasmussen recalls the willowy weirdness of Angela Bettis in that film, an unbalanced, bisexual creature whose sheltered affect leads to a mounting horror of strangeness. As we watch her pregnant stomach get bashed in during the opening moments, Parker manages to outdo this disgusting exploit with an even more gruesome vision only moments later when medical staff in an emergency room yank the mottled fetus out of her tummy in an effort to save the child.

As she begins to quasi-stalk the friendly woman from her support group, Parker unleashes a slo-mo sequence of brutal violence that, accompanied by a crescendo of music, recalls Brian De Palma. It’s a scene that directly highlights the potential of Proxy as well as its resounding cheapness. Borrowing heavily from Femme Fatale (though similar moments in Dressed to Kill certainly come to mind), it’s a delightfully edited sequence of striking visuals. Except, as if to justify its length, ends on a spurt of gore that’s laughable, at best. And as perspectives change, so does the quality of filmmaking.

Swanberg’s grieving father is serviceable, but Alexa Havins proves to be a poor counterpart for Rasmussen. Worse, Kristina Klebe’s performance as a butch lesbian is so off-key and one note that exploitation and homophobic criticisms mar the proceedings. But these are (hopefully) unassuming byproducts of some sloppily realized sequences, where narrative and performance are equally lacking. A scene that finds Klebe’s ex-convict storming into a newspaper office seems especially false, and a final showdown includes dialogue like “That’s what made her a great fuck,” for some unintentional comic relief.

An unnecessary running time of two hours makes things feels especially gratuitous, and one wonders how this may have felt at a lean 80 minutes with some tighter writing and less clunky performances. At its dark heart, Proxy does have an interesting scenario with an eerie subtext concerning motherhood. Despite some considerable flaws, however, Parker proves to be a provocative filmmaker with offbeat flourishes rarely seen in indie or genre cinema in the English language.

Disc Review:

While Proxy never looks cheap, per se, Jim Timperman’s cinematography, which features a lot of clear, even bright hues, never establishes a matching tone with the material. Sometimes the audio belies the need for additional scrubbing (such as an early conversation on a park bench), but these moments are fleeting. The film’s most expressive sequence, mid-way through the film, is so arresting, we’re waiting for another payoff later in the film that never transpires. IFC’s blu-ray package is nicely stocked with bonus features, though many of these seem a bit repetitive.

Interviews with Swanberg, Rasmussen, Kleben, Havins
Separate interviews from each actor are included, where they’re asked how they became involved with the project, etc. Swanberg’s is an interesting bit if you’re familiar with his work, and Rasmussen is a talent to watch for (she’s a standout in melodramatic indie film, Last Weekend, opposite Patricia Clarkson, coming later this summer). Additionally, there are on-set bits from the actors during the film of specific scenes.

The VFX and The Phantom Set
Snippets of how parts of the set were built and the VFX effects are interesting asides, including several sequences of before and after tints were removed.

Behind the Scenes
A 30 minute featurette of the making of the film seems a bit of overkill when paired with the multiple cast and crew interviews. One or the other of these seems adequate.

Final Thoughts

While there is sometimes an aberrant amateurishness to plotting in the second half and several of the performances are a little wooden, Proxy is definitely a title worth watching, and more than once at that.

Film: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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