I have an affinity towards movies unafraid to revel in dark, seedy territory especially when they place a magnifying glass against flawed, often disturbed people making very flawed and fatal decisions. There’s something compelling, tragic and incredibly tension-filled about tales of human frailty. Greats such as Fargo, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Killer Joe are perfect examples on how it’s done to maximum effect. Co-Writer/Director Zack Parker’s Proxy is the latest and it’s a doozy. It unapologetically aims for the audience’s throat and doesn’t waste any time in doing so.
Proxy deals with Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen), a pregnant woman who out of the blue is brutally attacked by an unknown assailant. This traumatic event leads her to a support group where she befriends another “scarred” woman (Alexa Havins). From this point on, things spiral to unimaginable, batshit crazy heights. This is as far as I’ll go. Proxy is one of those films best experienced with the least amount of prior knowledge. That’s how I went into it. The movie starts off on a serious vein. It hits its first disturbing blow by the second scene and keeps you uneasy for the remainder of its duration. The tone in Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s non-stop fright-fest, Inside aka À l’intérieur comes to mind. As the plot begins to steer in unexpected directions, Proxy begins to reveal its darkly humorous side.
The cast plays the Bish material without a wink. A lot of it comes across as kind of hammy yet I found it did right by the tone. The straight-faced conviction really brings out the sick humor. Joe Swanberg as Patrick Michaels (You’re Next, The Sacrament) is amusing as always. Kristina Klebe (Rob Zombie’s Halloween) stands out from the crowd as Esther’s amusingly aggressive girlfriend, Anika Barön. She is obviously having a blast with the character. As the humor becomes more prevalent, the more enjoyable she gets. Klebe delivers of the year’s standout performances. The only issue acting-wise stems from the weak supporting players. The stiffness of these performers can distract on occasion. These cast members generally disappear after a scene but the film does have its share of them. Strangely this reoccurring thing endeared me more to the movie.
Proxy takes on a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to the cinematography. It was shot in the 2.35 :1 aspect ratio which lends itself well to this type of clean, wide imagery. Parker unexpectedly goes stylized for one pivotal sequence in which he uses the Phantom high-speed camera for ultra-dramatic effect. The use of slo-mo nods to the works of Brian De Palma, as well as Lars Von Trier’s haunting opener inAntichrist. A lot of viewers will be turned off by the often over-lit, flat environments yet it does lend the world a reality that might not have been achieved if they went the other direction. It’s debatable. Proxy’s classy Bernard Herrmannesque score is perfectly in sync with Parker’s melodrama. Also responsible for Oculus’ soundtrack, composing duo The Newton Brothers have created two of the finer genre scores of 2013.
This is one deliciously perverse thriller. Parker unflinchingly rifles through one shocking twist after another, daring its audience to walk out of the theater in disgust. If one unexpected plot point doesn’t revolt you enough, there is another one waiting in the wing, more than eager to try. By conventional wisdom, Proxy is a bad picture. I wouldn’t argue with anyone that despises it because the criticisms can be valid. Considering I adore such sordid affairs as John McNaughton’s Wild Things and De Palma’s Body Double, Proxy totally spoke to me. Those films’ success (at least for me) stems from its handling of tone. What keeps them from ever becoming mean-spirited (a huge feat) is their over-the-top approach. The dark humor is always bubbling within the surface. The viewer is allowed to have fun at the characters’ expense and the ridiculousness of the situation. Proud and fully aware, Proxy is a joyfully trashy, sinful slice of macabre entertainment.