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proxy

Until it goes completely off the rails in the final third, sort of like a speeding train missing a dead-man’s curve and plummeting into a bottomless ravine, Zack Parker’s Proxy (2014) is a tricky, endlessly fascinating and constantly frustrating experience. As the film progresses, however, the numerous plot holes, leaps of faith and contrived scenarios begin to pile on fast and furious until audience members have but two choices: embrace the chaos and go down with the ship or jump overboard and swim for land as fast as possible. While I ended up going with the first option, wise readers would be well-advised to practice up on their backstroke: this is two hours you will never get back.

We begin with Esther (Alexia Rasmussen), a sad-sack, mopey single mother-to-be who’s on her way back from her gynecologist when she’s suddenly and brutally attacked by an unseen assailant: the attacker knocks her out with a brick and proceeds to bash her stomach until the unborn baby is just a memory. After she wakes up in the hospital, Esther is truly alone: she has no family, no friends, no significant other…even her pregnancy came courtesy of a sperm bank donation. As various authority figures like Detective Allen (Faust Checho) and Mary Wilkins (Erika Hoveland) hover and bustle about her, Esther keeps pulling back into her own world, even more isolated than she was before. As Mary warns her, however, Esther better get help while she’s still “in the system,” so to speak: once she leaves the hospital, no one is going to care a damn about her or offer her any help whatsoever.

Esther ends up taking the advise and finds herself in a “mothers in mourning” support group. While there, she happens to meet bubbly, blonde Melanie (Alexa Havins): still mourning the deaths of her husband and young son at the hands of a drunk driver, Melanie is, nonetheless, at least 1000% times more outgoing than Esther and the demure loner ends up hanging out with her, as the two stumble towards a tentative friendship. When Melanie begins to blow off Esther’s calls, however, the other woman begins to feel marginalized and depressed all over again. While filling out a job application at a department store, Esther happens to see Melanie, although the other woman seems way too occupied to notice her: when she spies her, Melanie is making a huge fuss about losing her son in the store, which strikes Esther as a neat trick, since the kid is, supposedly, dead.

As it turns out, Melanie’s husband and son, Patrick (Joe Swanberg) and Peyton (Xavier Parker), seem to be quite alive and quite well: when Esther confronts her friend with this information, Melanie freaks out and tells Esther to get lost. At about this time, we also meet Esther’s tough-as-nails girlfriend, Anika (Kristina Klebe): we’re introduced to her in a rather bracing scene that begins as what appears to be a rape but is later revealed to be very rough, albeit consensual, sex. Anika is both paranoid and constantly suspicious of Esther’s fidelity, neither of which make a particularly good combo with her violent temper.

Just when it appears that all of these disparate folks are headed for a violent, smash-up confrontation, ala Simon Rumley’s  Red, White & Blue (2010), Parker and co-writer Kevin Donner throw in a huge twist at the mid-point that spins the film off in a completely different direction. Unfortunately, this represents the first of many twists and turns that have the effect of jerking the film from one side to other erratically. As new plot points develop, bigger and bigger holes begin to appear in the film and, by the final 30 minutes, the whole thing has begun to disappear into a sinkhole of its own creation. By the time we get to the ending (yet another damn twist), so much of what came before has either been contradicted, forgotten or made redundant that it feels as if Proxy were actually three separate films stitched together: on their own, any of them might have been able to stay afloat. Shackled together, however, the disparate elements of Parker’s film pull the whole production down into Davy Jones’ locker.

Suffice to say, by the time it was over, my primary emotions were relief (this is an awfully long two hours, trust me), frustration and more than a little irritation: there were seeds of an intriguing idea here but nothing was developed in any satisfactory way. To this problem, add some truly erratic acting (Rasmussen is great as Esther, pretty much everyone else in the film is astoundingly awful and awkward), some painfully stilted dialogue and some enormous plot holes and contrivances…mix, bake at 350 and voila…you have one Proxy.

The hell of all this is that, at times, Parker’s film is actually pretty good. Rasmussen does a great job with a particularly tricky character (at various points, Esther earns both our sympathy AND our revulsion, which makes her a sort-of spiritual descendant to Travis Bickle, believe it or not) and definitely marks herself as someone to watch. The Newton Brothers’ moody, tense score is a mini-marvel: the duo was also responsible for Oculus’ (2014) excellent score and are handily establishing themselves as go-to guys for modern-day genre film scores. There were also some nicely realized visual flourishes and stylistic tics (my favorite being the slo-mo water dripping in the bathtub) that were definitely appreciated, even if the film’s general messiness and chaotic structure made it a little difficult to really focus on them.

Ultimately, Proxy ended up being one of the most disappointing 2014 films I saw all year: there was so much potential here, which made the results even more unfortunate. I’m not quite ready to write-off the production team, however: there were enough good ideas here to bode well for the future, provided that some measure of order is restored. As it stands, however, Proxy just isn’t very good, even though it could have been so much more.

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