Movies You Missed: Proxy | Live Culture
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Friday, January 30, 2015

Movies You Missed: Proxy

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2015 at 3:14 PM

click to enlarge Esther contemplates a changed self. - IFC MIDNIGHT
  • IFC Midnight
  • Esther contemplates a changed self.
This week in movies you missed: Late last year over on the Dissolve, I saw critic Mike D'Angelo mention Proxy among his top 15 films of 2014. I'd never heard of this movie from writer-director Zack Parker (Scalene), but, hey, it was on Netflix Instant. I gave it a try.

Wow.

What You Missed
Two women meet at a support group for grieving mothers. Twentysomething Esther (Alexia Rasmussen), who's not good with people (and that's an understatement), doesn't feel comfortable talking about why she's there. Slick, put-together Melanie (Alexa Havins) readily tells her story.

When Melanie reaches out to Esther, cultivating a friendship with her, that's when things get weird. Because Esther is starting to suspect Melanie is not even close to what she seems. Turns out both of them have a few surprises up their sleeves.

Here's the trailer:

Why You Missed It
When I search this film on Box Office Mojo, all that comes up is The Hudsucker Proxy. Proxy did play in the 2013 Toronto Film Festival's Vanguard section, where it came with an accurate warning that "Proxy begins with some deeply disturbing content."

Should You Keep Missing It?

I am truly baffled that a professional critic would give this movie a politely charitable review, much less award it four stars. It is terrible. The so-called dazzling set-piece at the middle is laughably staged ... suffice to say that the audience was literally laughing at it when I saw it at a festival a couple of months ago. I actually did think that for the first half-hour it was a fairly compelling, if amateurish, De Palma knockoff. But after the pivot point of the movie—which, again, is completely ridiculous—the movie just plods from one WTF moment to another, spinning its wheels ludicrously until its eye-rolling ending. Maybe D'Angelo is grading it on a curve; I don't know. But I feel like I have a civic responsibility to tell you that you'll be angry if you allow this mystifyingly positive review to convince you to see this dog.

That quote comes from a comment posted on D'Angelo's original review of Proxy on the Dissolve. The commenter and a few others go on to argue that an approving review of Proxy calls the credibility of the whole site into question.
click to enlarge Despite the blood, this isn't really a horror flick. - IFC MIDNIGHT
  • IFC Midnight
  • Despite the blood, this isn't really a horror flick.

"[I]f enough people see this movie it could be my new barometer for whether or not a person has trustworthy taste in movies," another commenter wrote. "As of now it's still Boondock Saints."

So … yeah. I did not like The Boondock Saints, for the record (except as unintentional comedy). But I did like Proxy.

Maybe "like" is the wrong word. It's more accurate to say I was riveted, and desperately wanted to discuss it with someone when it was over. And yet, I can fully understand why others find it a horrendous experience.

I'll try to explain why using my usual scale for the evaluation of indies:

1-4 points: Does it look pretty?
3/4. It's not a lush or visually exciting film (except for a few showy sequences), but Parker carefully frames his images for maximum suspense and, sometimes, ambiguity. While Netflix tells you Proxy is a horror flick, it's actually a twisted psychological thriller in the De Palma mode, and I thought Parker's cold, faux-clinical approach worked.

I can see how that approach might mislead viewers, however, into expecting realistic plot developments when this is adamantly not a realistic film.

1-4 points: Does anything happen?
4/4. Yes, but I can't spoil any of it. Suffice it to say that the movie breaks a certain major cinematic taboo twice, and a few more storytelling taboos along the way.

1-4 points: Does what happens make sense?
2/4. Well … here's where I part company with Proxy's detractors and even some of its fans, such as D'Angelo. Both groups describe the characters' actions as senseless and utterly lacking in psychological plausibility. D'Angelo doesn't see that as a problem; the detractors do.

I disagree. Granted, the movie has the kind of psychological plausibility that a fever dream does, the kind Blue Velvet does. It doesn't depict the way anyone would act in real life. It takes secret neuroses, fears and ambivalences and turns them into full-blown, plot-driving insanity.

But I think that insanity has a basis in reality. Some, I know, will adamantly disagree. But Münchausen by proxy, the syndrome for which the movie is clearly named, is real.

Without spoiling, I can say that both Esther and Melanie are driven by a pathological need for attention. That, too, is real. It's what they do to get attention that viewers will question.
click to enlarge Rasmussen anchors the movie. - IFC MIDNIGHT
  • IFC Midnight
  • Rasmussen anchors the movie.

1-4 points: Do the characters seem like real people? Failing that, do they look pretty?

3/4. Rasmussen's bizarre, wounded, awkward performance drew me into this film and made everything else work, even when revelations about her character gave me painful whiplash. With a lesser actress in the role, I would not have suspended my disbelief.

Havins is a soap opera veteran, and it shows. The thing is, the glossy, self-conscious emotional shallowness she exhibits here is perfect for the role of Melanie. This is the type of woman who watches too many talk shows and Lifetime movies and dreams of being their heroine — a creepy sister to Amy in Gone Girl. Havins doesn't pull off the transformations that Rosamund Pike did, but I still think she's well cast.

click to enlarge Melanie has perfected her cloying façade, but something lies beneath. - IFC MIDNIGHT
  • IFC Midnight
  • Melanie has perfected her cloying façade, but something lies beneath.
1-4 points: Does the movie give us a reason to care about anything happening on screen?
3/4. Maybe I'm a sucker, but I did care about these characters, even when they betrayed my trust in the most horrible ways possible. Some of the actions of supporting characters do feel pretty random (like they're just necessary to jack up tension), and the "cops solving mystery" part of the film is a fail. But the arcs of the two protagonists worked for me all the way to the last scene.

Verdict: 15/20. Rare is the person to whom I'd recommend Proxy. But if you liked Dressed to Kill and Blue Velvet, and know you can handle "disturbing" material on the level of the French film Inside, maybe give it a try. (Proxy is far less gory than Inside, but you'll understand the comparison.)

Then come back and tell me I'm going straight to cinematic-bad-taste hell. Hell, I've known that for a while.

This Week in Theaters
At the Roxy, catch A Most Violent Year, the latest from J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost), or check out the Oscar-nominated shorts.

At the Savoy, there's Mike Leigh's acclaimed artist biopic Mr. Turner.

Elsewhere: Hanky-panky leads to murder in thriller The Loft, teens play around with time travel in Project Almanac, and Kevin Costner attempts to educate us all about racism in Black or White.

This Week in Your Living Room
Before I Go to Sleep, The Book of Life, Fury, The Judge, My Old Lady.



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Project Almanac
Rated PG-13 · 120 min. · 2014
Official Site: www.projectalmanac.com
Director: Dean Israelite
Writer: Jason Pagan and Andrew Stark
Cast: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black D'Elia, Michelle DeFraites, Patrick Johnson, Allen Evangelista, Sam Lerner, Michelle DeFraites, Wadette Bradford and Allen Evangelista
The Loft
Rated R · 103 min. · 2014
Official Site: www.theloftmovie.com
Director: Erik Van Looy
Writer: Bart De Pauw
Cast: Karl Urban, James Marsden, Rhona Mitra, Wentworth Miller, Laura Cayouette, Margarita Levieva, Rachael Taylor and Isabel Lucas
Proxy
Rated NR · 120 min.
Director: Zack Parker
Writer: Kevin Donner and Zack Parker
Cast: Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins, Kristina Klebe, Alexia Rasmussen, Faust Checho, Erica Stikeleather, Kitsie Duncan and Erika Hoveland
Mr. Turner
Rated R · 149 min. · 2014
Official Site: sonyclassics.com/mrturner
Director: Mike Leigh
Writer: Mike Leigh
Producer: Georgina Lowe
Cast: Timothy Spall, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Julian Seager, James Norton, Lasco Atkins, Jamie Thomas King and Robert Portal
A Most Violent Year
Rated R · 125 min. · 2014
Official Site: amostviolentyear.com
Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer: J.C. Chandor
Producer: Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb and J.C. Chandor
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Peter Gerety, Christopher Abbott and Ashley Williams
Black or White
Rated PG-13 · 121 min. · 2015
Director: Mike Binder
Writer: Mike Binder
Cast: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Gillian Jacobs, Jennifer Ehle, Anthony Mackie and Bill Burr

Trailers




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Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for A Most Violent Year, Black or White, Mr. Turner, Project Almanac, Proxy, or The Loft

About The Author

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison

Bio:
Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.

More by Margot Harrison

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