by Nav Qateel
It’s been quite a while since last I watched a horror so bizarre and utterly unnerving as Zack Parker’s Proxy. A lot about the film’s narrative defies logic, and just when you think you have a handle on what’s going on in the minds our two main protagonists — Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) and Melanie (Alexa Havins) — Parker and co-writer Kevin Donner, throw you a vicious curve ball that leaves you even less sure of the direction this unpredictable film is taking.
This is admittedly the first Zack Parker movie I’ve seen, and after being suitably impressed by Proxy, I have his 2011 thriller, Scalene, queued and ready to watch. What may put the casual viewer off — besides seeing a most brutal attack on the heavily pregnant Esther — where a stranger repeatedly hits her belly with a brick, is the slow, deliberate pace of the film, where Parker takes his time revealing the player’s motivations. Although, you’ll be glad of the breathing space afforded by the pacing, as we attempt to unravel this tale.
After a horrific attack on the pregnant Esther causes her to lose her unborn child, a social worker at the hospital advises her to attend a group therapy session. Esther meets Melanie, a woman that claims her son was kidnaped. A short while later, Esther sees Melanie alone in a shopping mall, but before she can talk to the woman, Melanie suddenly starts screaming about how her son has just gone missing. Esther then sees Melanie go to her car, where her son is sitting safe and sound, and at that point realises she’s found someone as damaged and screwed up as herself.
Melanie appears to suffer from delusions and some form of Munchausen by Proxy, with Esther craving the attention she received while she was pregnant, as she too isn’t playing with a full deck. Knowing this won’t spoil anything because this film is far from simple, and it takes some unexpected twists and turns. Melanie’s husband, Patrick (Joe Swanberg), becomes unwittingly embroiled in both women’s’ delusions, as does Esther’s lesbian lover, Anika (Kristina Klebe), leading up to a tense, psychological revenge thriller that’s not afraid to venture well outside the box.
Parker’s direction was admirable because for just over two-hours he managed to keep the film gripping and tense, even when there wasn’t much happening on-screen, and this was in part thanks to the terrific score by The Newton Brothers, who were also responsible for the music on the successful new horror, Oculus. Parker also edited Proxy, which will no doubt account for a running time being this long, however, I feel the film warranted the two-hours, but not all will agree and may think it a touch excessive.
The acting by each of the cast was particularly good, and when you consider the subject matter that was being dealt with, having strong performances was key to the success of the storytelling. Alexia Rasmussen’s character, Esther was perhaps the hardest to play, because her feelings were less obvious, with Rasmussen doing a brilliant job of portraying the confused woman. Alexa Havins’ character was also complicated, with Kristina Klebe playing the slightly butch lover of Esther with gusto, looking like she was having fun with the role. Really, all three women were extremely good, and Joe Swanberg was certainly no slouch either, as Patrick moped around trying to make sense of everything that was happening.
This is the type of psychological horror I thrive on, where nothing is obvious and you have to work hard to keep up with events, however, the violence in Proxy will put a lot of folk off, especially as it’s directed at children and a pregnant woman. Proxy is also a film that will benefit from multiple viewings, which sadly I haven’t had time for yet, with one or two scenes just begging to be watched again to help me understand what I was seeing.
If you haven’t seen the film, don’t read on. For example, there’s a scene at the 70-minute mark where we see Patrick walk into his bathroom and grab a woman from the tub, then takes her down to the basement where he appears to be torturing her. He then has blood on his T-shirt, but when he briefly goes outside, the shirt is clean again. I’d have to go with the assumption he too was having delusions.