02nd Mar2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘Proxy’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havins, Kristina Klebe, Joe Swanberg, Jim Dougherty, Faust Checho, Erika Hoveland | Written by Zack Parker, Kevin Donner | Directed by Zack Parker

Proxy-Cast

Attacked and beaten by a hooded assailant after seeing her gynaecologist, pregnant Esther seeks consolation in a support group where she meets Melanie, a mother who lost a child. But nothing is as it appears in Proxy, because one of these damaged women is a psychodrama queen, the other seriously deranged. However, which one is which and where to draw the line?

And that’s the central, rather twisted premise of a film which actually reminded me a lot of the Frightfest 2012 film Crawl, in so much as it which builds situation upon situation, ever increasing the sense of dread until pervades every inch of the film – so much so that even the moments of quietness feel too quiet and you end up expecting something bad to happen at each and every turn. Nerve-racking is definitely not the word.

Part way through Proxy I thought I knew where this film was headed. After all there are clues in the title… which is a play on Münchausen syndrome by proxy, the behavioral pattern in which a caregiver deliberately exaggerates, fabricates, and/or induces health problems in those who are in their care. Yet in the end the titular idea is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in this slow-burning thriller, as co-writer/director Zack Parker also touches on the ideas of emotional proxies – his characters using others to fulfill emotional voids, or seeking people whose lives they can live vicariously through, even if said lives are wrought with darkness and depression.

In all fairness, Proxy may not be for everyone. The story starts off on a bleak note and continues in a very dark spiral, only getting bleaker and bleaker until (almost) the final frame; but that’s to be expected given the film deals with ideas of loss, coping with grief and the social “awkwardness” that often comes with losing a loved one. There are some shards of light in Parker’s dark tale – namely the performance of Kristina Klebe as Anika, the tattoo-covered, overly aggressive girlfriend of lead character Esther. Both character and performance are balls-to-the-wall and as the situation gets crazier as does Klebe’s performance, adding a touch of much-needed gallows humour to this straight-laced tale.

It’s not only Klebe’s performance that stands out, the central performances are uniformally superb across the board. Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havins and Joe Swanberg all play it totally straight, and in some cases (in particular Swanberg) it’s the super-straight nature of the performance that highlights the twisted sense of humour that underpins the darkness of Parker’s tale, even as the story gets bleaker and bleaker.

Dark yet never mean-spirited, with over the top slo-mo sequences that reminded me of the likes of Brian De Palma and a score to match, Proxy is a stunning Hitchcockian fourth feature from Zack Parker. Unmissable.

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