From a filmmaking standpoint, you can’t help but admire the cojones it took to attempt Proxy. Running at a long-winded two hours, writers Kevin Donner and (director) Zack Parker cram surprise after surprise into a dramatic revenge thriller that starts simply as a young mother’s horror story. Nothing is EVER as it seems though, as two different movies are shown through each hour, divided halfway by a cataclysmic event Parker could have just as easily ended Proxy with. Shifting gears faster than Vin Diesel in The Fast And Furious, blind ambition takes Parker as far as it can, but a faltering execution downplays dark, genuinely confounding storytelling that movies just won’t risk on today’s audiences. What a shame, because Parker gains brownie points by shoving Hollywood normalcy straight back into The Man’s face – there’s just a lack of “walking the walk” after “talking the talk.”
Soon-to-be mother Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) has her world rocked when a mugger leaves her and her baby for dead – a senseless crime with no answers. While Esther is lucky enough to survive the attack, her baby doesn’t, leaving a grieving mother with nothing but a goldfish to raise. Looking for help, Esther attends a meeting for mourning mothers, surrounding herself with women in similar situations. Befriending one of the other lost souls, Esther starts to build stable groundwork worthy of a rejuvenated life, but as she learns more about her new friend, appearances begin to become shrouded in mystery. While Esther initially embraced her newfound companionship, questions start to cloud her judgement – but is her paranoia based on truth?
Proxy will leave your head spinning, because while it’s a film worthy of admiration, such a long run time still presents a daunting task. Big budget behemoths like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are able to captivate viewers for longer periods of time given wild action pieces, a bevy of unique characters, and million-dollar spectacles involving crumbling cities and massive explosions. While Proxy is an unnerving and vile watch at times, a pitch-black thriller, too many elongated scenes seemed fluffy and without substance, dragging audiences through the inevitable. Parker could have ended his film an hour in, after a bombshell reveal drops, and credits could have immediately followed. I won’t say the shorter version would have marked a more interested watch, but morbidly flat scenes turn Proxy into a butt-numbing chore deserving of a tighter focus and some downplayed theatrics.
Opening on the highest of shock-value notes, Proxy struggles to maintain levels of introduced terror during the film’s second half – going dead after scripted secrets surface. With two focal stories we’re meant to focus on, Parker’s beginning remains much stronger than his end, going out with a strange, expected whimper as characters detach from reality. Be it grieving mothers, traumatized fathers, or the generic, weightless supporting characters forced intermittently, our characters become strung out, forcing insanity when a powerfully emotional ending could have been achieved with a good thirty minutes of derailing storytelling edited out. There’s a dark, maternal message gestating throughout Parker’s film, but in an attempt to cram an overload of tonal changes into one measly story, we start to feel a bit like Greta from A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child – being force-fed until bursting open.
While Proxy fumbles elements of psychological tension, graphic horror, and acted revenge, our cast attempts to roll with their character’s punches, struggling to cover an emotional rainbow of sorts. While I typically enjoy Joe Swanberg, he plays a father suffering a recent loss, much like Esther, but unlike actress Alexia Rasmussen, Swanberg struggles in representing a sympathetic depression. Horribly wooden and goofily enraged, Swanberg forces hatred and spite with flighty results. His wife Melanie, played by Alexa Havins, shows the same struggles, just with a little dementia thrown in, convoluting her character beyond recognition at times. Mix in a (laughably stereotypical) raging lesbian lover seeking retribution, and you’ve got a sloppy mess of depressed individuals who flounder lifelessly over time, drawing out pain points far longer than necessary.
What starts as a horrifying glance into a mother’s worst nightmare slowly unravels, revealing a multi-layered core hiding surprise after surprise – but does the trickery become too much? Proxy bursts with isolated terror, but at the same time fails to display exciting, engaging filmmaking – a problem considering two plus hours worth of watching. Parker creates multiple viewing experiences jammed into one over bloated story, but devoid of any cinematic flashiness, Proxy falls into a generic category of thriller without identity or lasting intrigue. Grief and despair give way to obsession and lusty revenge, but neither atmosphere is properly played out – a sad ending for such an original, ambitious project.
Proxy is too many conflicting movies crammed into a daunting 2 hour run time. Zack Parker juggles too many plates at once, and they all come crashing down simultaneously.