★★★ / ★★★★
Written by Kevin Donner and Zack Parker with a twisted imagination and a willingness to keep viewers on their toes, “Proxy” is a kind of picture that mainstream Hollywood dares not to make, let alone support, due to its lack of commerciality. But aside from its occasionally shocking content that dares to focus on characters with dark ideations, the film works as an exercise of style, so malleable and consistently interesting as it undergoes genre-bending acrobatics that would tickle even Alfred Hitchcock, its apparent inspiration.
The film quietly opens with a pregnant woman whose baby is about two weeks away from being born. Her name is Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) and, after engaging in a brief and impersonal exchange with an obstetric technician, we get the impression she does not at all seem excited to raise a child. Whether her sorrow is simply a part of her personality or due to her current state, we do not know. (Rasmussen knows this is the character’s hook and so the performer plays upon the mystique.) On her way to the bus stop, we witness Esther get mugged and her assailant, with a brick in hand, pounds away at the would-be mother’s belly. We do not see a glimpse of the attacker’s face, but we note the red sweater.
To reveal more about the plot and where it is going is to perform a disservice to those who shaped the picture. Notice the screenplay’s knack for efficiency, how nearly every other scene appears to reveal a pattern: characters tend to express or do things that they ought not to—at least not in public. Because every one of them seems to be damaged, perhaps even pathological, in some way, we attempt to understand these figures either through crumbs of their histories, which can be found in conversations, or the defense mechanisms they employ in order to be liked, regarded, and thought about by others. Those who have experience with a psychology course or two can have a field day with these subjects for the material almost requites to the viewer to peek underneath the facade in order to realize the horror lurking underneath.
In the middle of this beguiling suspense-thriller, I wondered what the screenwriters are hoping to communicate to the audience. Surely the film’s purpose is not only to entertain because the plot is not the propulsive kind. In fact, some stretches are quite ruminative, silent, and the camera fixates on a body language or face. It is willing to take the time to show what grief does to a person. How loneliness cripples from within. This is a story of desperate people who look pretty normal on the outside but screaming on the inside.
I believe Donner and Parker attempt to point at our humanity, or a largely unexplored part of it, something so embedded in our subconscious that none of the events that we see on screen—at first—should register as even remotely amusing. But as one looks at it further, dissects it, maybe it is funny, for instance, how far we go to keep our needs a secret—needs that are not socially acceptable, those considered to be morally wrong, ugly, dark, even sick. Perhaps the film is a critique of our society, the sacrifices we make to be “normal,” to belong.
Musings aside, Zack Parker directs “Proxy” in such a way that it delivers a memorable experience. Although the work can be criticized for the occasionally overwritten script, the actors being tasked to sell the more complex dialogue that befits a play, this shortcoming can be overlooked because nearly everything else functions on a high level. Here is a film for those with unconventional tastes, those looking for projects unafraid to take risks.