It’s fun when a movie sneaks up on you, something you either had low expectations for or maybe were not even aware of. It doesn’t happen very often. It seems like in this day and age, almost every movie is a known entity before viewers are able to see it. The low expectations game doesn’t pan out much because usually your expectations were low for good reason.
Until about a week ago, this viewer had never heard of Proxy. This review will tread carefully because knowing too much about it is likely to diminish the impact of such a bizarre and surprising tale.
It grabs your attention immediately. Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is pregnant and two weeks from her due date. After visiting her doctor she is attacked while walking to a bus stop. It is brutal and horrifying, calling to mind the 2007 French classic Inside. You just don’t see pregnant women attacked like this in movies much.
Esther wakes up in the hospital and learns that her baby didn’t survive. A detective wants to know who would have wanted to harm her and her unborn child. Taken aback by the question, he tells Esther that an attack like that is personal and likely not random. She claims to have no idea who would do something like that.
To deal with her loss Esther, who doesn’t have any friends or family (the father was a sperm donor), joins a local support group. There she meets Melanie (Alexa Havins), an outgoing and compassionate woman who says a drunk driver killed her husband and young son. Esther and Melanie begin spending time together, talking about their grief and loss, and how to cope with what happened to them.
At this point it has already been established that these people are not who they seem, and the movie is not at the halfway point. Basically every major character (and there are more than just Esther and Melanie) is a liar and keeps major secrets. This holds one’s attention and interest with ease, and the truth is revealed slowly and carefully. The fact that it’s very difficult to know where it’s all going is refreshing and thrilling.
Another strength is the intense, raw grief on display in a few scenes. Certain characters talk openly about dead children and their own failings as a parent. It’s incredibly powerful and sad.
Proxy does slow down a little at the halfway point. The first hour (at two hours it does run a bit long) is almost nonstop surprises and craziness, and the rampant unpredictability comes to an end after a shocking scene in Melanie’s house. The second hour focuses more on the mundane, following characters at work or arguing with others or having lunch, and it drags a little.
That first hour is remarkable though, and the last 15 or so minutes of this puzzling, unnerving movie are nearly as great. Even after two hours, most of the characters are hard to figure out. Much less difficult to decipher is the notion that after this story of madness and violence in small town America and the equally intriguing and unsettling Scalene, director Zack Parker is a major talent.