FEARNET Movie Review: 'Proxy'


proxyIt's only because the phrase "the horror version of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia" popped into my head three or four times during the excellent new horror film Proxy that I feel comfortable bringing it up here. That certainly sounds like a glib and lofty piece of praise for a bizarre indie thriller that starts out darkly compelling and slowly grows more unpredictable every fifteen minutes, but the surface-level comparison seems to fit. Much like the strange and challenging Magnolia, Proxy starts with one offbeat story -- and then branches off into a variety of darkly fascinating directions.

We open with the sad story of Esther Woodhouse, a very pregnant woman who is brutally beaten on her way home from a doctor's appointment. Following her physical recuperation, Esther is advised to attend a support group for women dealing with child-related tragedies, and that's where she meets Melanie Michaels, who was also the victim of a shocking tragedy. As the two wounded women build a tentative friendship, the viewer starts to catch a few discrepancies in each of the characters' stories: Esther has a lesbian lover with some serious anger issues; the sweet-natured Melanie obviously has some psychological scars and perhaps a skeleton or two in her closet.
Much of the artistry of Proxy comes in the form of revelations that the viewer should discover for themselves, but what director Zack Parker and his co-writer Kevin Donner have put together here is a shocking tale of tragedy that's frequently brilliant in the way it A) subverts expectations, B) keeps a viewer guessing, and C) offers powerful food-for-thought on how issues like love, loyalty, commitment, misery, and sympathy, and empathy can be as addicting as alcohol, cocaine, and nicotine. Virtually all of these characters do terrible things, but thanks to a razor-sharp screenplay and a superlative cast, Proxy is both an indictment of the human condition and an unflinching morality tale that indicates how sad and fractured we all are at the worst moments of our lives.
The female leads (Alexia Rasmussen as Esther; Alex Havins as Melanie; Kristina Klebe as the outraged Anika) are simply excellent across the board, especially when one considers the sort of emotional weight they're asked to carry. The only male in the cast of any major importance is Melanie's laconic husband Patrick, who doesn't show up until halfway through the film but provides an insidious counterpoint to the female characters. (He's played by indie veteran Joe Swanberg, and this may be one of the prolific actor's finest performances.)
And to those who may be skeptical or hesitant after hearing that Proxy runs over 125 minutes, as I certainly was, you can rest easy. Mr. Parker and his team have created a frank and sometimes devastating thriller about the nature of mental illness, the ironic dangers in lying to people who trust you, and the freakish lunacy that may lie beneath the surface of even the mostly normal-looking people. This is a great horror film.