Indiana-based filmmaker Zack Parker’s previous film, Scalene, was an unsettling thriller based on seemingly normal people behaving very abnormally. That film, built around an uncomfortable to watch but incredible performance by Margo Martindale, earned Parker a fair number of fans in the indie horror scene despite not being a straightforward genre film. It followed that his next project would be more ambitious, but it still came as something of a surprise that Proxy, Parker’s latest film, was picked up for release by IFC Midnight. After all, like Scalene, Proxy is hardly a commercially friendly film. If anything, it cements Parker’s reputation as a filmmaker who is perfectly willing to present audiences with exceptionally difficult material.
Parker lays his cards on the table before the opening credits even roll: Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) is brutally attacked leaving a doctor’s appointment to check on her unborn baby. The attacker leaves her in an alley to die, but she is discovered and taken to a hospital. Esther lives, but the baby does not, and after leaving the hospital she finds herself in a support group for parents who have lost their children. Here she meets Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who has also lost a child. This meeting sets in motion a series of increasingly bizarre events as the audience learns that no one is anything like they seem, and the women at the center of the action harbor some profoundly unsettling secrets.
Proxy, like Scalene, is a study of extreme human behavior. However, it is also much more of a genre film, although this is still miles away from any kind of supernatural horror. The disturbing aspects of Proxy are entirely due to the mental states and actions of the characters, who often behave in ways that completely defy rational explanation. Scalene was played mostly straight, only using occasional stylistic flourishes to tell its story, but Proxy is much more concerned with style. The film hinges on a centerpiece so wildly over the top it’s hard not to laugh out loud at its sheer audacity, and when the story takes off in a completely different direction afterward, it’s virtually impossible not to admire Parker’s approach.
As impressive as Parker’s steady hand is in guiding this insane story, Proxy is not without problems. Alexia Rasmussen is perfectly distant as Esther, and Alexa Havins is equally perfect as her reluctant soulmate. The supporting cast is fine, but no one seems to be playing at quite the same level as the two leading ladies (or, sometimes, in quite the same movie). There are some iffy special effects that rob a few moments of their full desired impact, one of the only places the film’s small budget is apparent. Despite these minor issues, Proxy is destined to be a highly divisive cult film. It is a highly unique psychological thriller that will have audience members seeking out Parker’s previous work or dismissing him completely, with probably little room in the middle for anyone on the fence. And that’s worth an enthusiastic recommendation for any film.
IFC Midnight released Proxy on DVD and Blu-ray on 12 August 2014. Special features include a 31-minute “Making of” featurette, 11 interview pieces with cast and crew, featurettes on the film’s VFX and a set built in the Richmond Art Museum, and the film’s trailer.