Proxy, the new film by Zack Parker, begins with a horrible act. Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) is violently assaulted as she is leaving a doctor’s appointment. She is very far along in her pregnancy. The baby does not survive. After seeing this ghastly occurrence, the following events are hard to anticipate. It somehow only gets worse from there; the film is a provocative and difficult tale, which effectively furthers Parker’s journey to establishing himself as an auteur of low-budget filmmaking.
A traumatized Esther joins a self-help group where she befriends Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who is in recovery following the loss of her son. Esther begins to realize there is something off about Melanie, as we begin to realize there’s something wrong with Esther as well. The film proceeds down a uniquely structured path, as characters become entwined in strange ways, each carrying with them a new moral dilemma.
During the Q&A following the Lincoln Center screening, which took place as part of the Scary Movies series they hold annually, Parker discussed his interest in writing screenplays that distort the traditional three-act-structure of cinematic storytelling. Proxy is his furthest exploration into this, almost divided into two entirely different sections that are bound together by a tangle of malevolence. Parker’s script is challenging and smart. Proxy may be straightforward cinematically, but beneath the aesthetic surface, there’s a lot of complexity.
The film’s twisted soul is in its characters and the perception of them; their motivations are revealed slowly and eloquently, causing your feelings on what’s actually happening in the film to change drastically and without warning. At first, you pity and fear for Esther’s well-being. A moment later, you’re sickened by her. You grow to hate a character you cared for in a way you never thought possible upon meeting her. The performances are all very solid and very brave. Kristina Klebe, who plays the part of Anika, brings so much energy and personality to her role. I also must admit, at some point during Proxy I realized that Joe Swanberg, who pops up near the middle of the film and sticks around till the end, might be the best person on the planet. I wouldn’t mind watching him in every movie, which is for the best, as he’s in so many of them already.
Parker has not changed stylistically since his previous film, Scalene, but this is somewhat irrelevant. When dealing with themes and ideas this intense, as to push the limits of drama into horror, being overly stylized is not only unnecessary, it may distract from the story. The simplistic nature of the film allows for more character, giving the audience a greater space in which to observe and contemplate the atrocities that are being committed. Parker has almost mastered this space. It pains me to say it, but Proxy suffers from being too roomy. It’s just too long.
It isn’t that the concepts of Proxy can’t support the two hour running time, but the budget. There just isn’t enough happening around the characters to fill the length of the film, and the more time you spend in a scene, the more its tiny problems start to reveal themselves. Midway through the second half of the film, the length begins to derail the story. There is a clear conclusion coming, but the path is winding and confused in a way that’s detrimental to the movie. The ending suffers from the most obvious of the monetary restraints, suggesting key moments may have been omitted or danced around due to a lack of funds.
I don’t want to dissuade anyone from seeing Proxy via my criticisms. This sincere effort is precisely the kind of challenging film I personally want to see more of, and in order for that to happen, audiences need to give art like this a shot. The film has been picked up for distribution by IFC Midnight, and will hopefully soon be available to a larger audience.