Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Proxy: There is No Twelve Step Program for this Kind of Nuts

A grieving parents’ support group is about to get sinister. Fortunately, a formerly pregnant woman and her new fast friend have their own strange ways of processing loss. The hyper-sensitive are sure to be offended and nobody is likely to win mother-of-the-year awards, but some truly game-changing twists will come viewers’ way during Zack Parker’s Proxy (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

Walking home from her ultrasound, the very pregnant Esther Woodhouse is brutally attacked by a hooded figure deliberately targeting her baby. She survives the attack, but her unborn child does not. During her recuperation, the hospital staff is so alarmed by her emotional detachment, they require her to attend a grief counseling group session. It is there that she meets fellow member Melanie Michaels. Clearly Woodhouse feels some degree of sexual attraction, but Michaels seems to take exploitative emotional satisfaction from their encounters—none of which pleases Anika Barön, Woodhouse’s violently jealous ex-con lesbian lover.

Fate will ensnare all three women in a web of obsession and revenge, but a series of massive revelations will profoundly alter our perceptions of Woodhouse and Michaels. In contrast, Barön wears her insanity on her sleeve and never wavers from it. To give away any further details would be spoilery. It would also look ridiculously lurid spelled out in black and white.

Yet, that bite-me fearlessness is part of Proxy’s charm, so to speak. Parker synthesizes Cape Fear, Don’t Look Now, and half a dozen De Palma films, while the Newton Brothers’ score transparently evokes the Bernard Hermann music heard in the Hitchcock films the latter was riffing on, but he gives his themes and motifs a distinctive spin all his own. Parker does not merely dab a toe on the third rail of sexual orientation—he jumps on it with both feet. Frankly, this is the sort of gleefully bold erotically charged thriller we probably thought we would never see again—and it works for precisely that reason (even though Parker’s extreme budget constraints nearly undermine key third act sequences).

Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havins, and Kristina Klebe admirably go all in as the bat-scat crazy trio, each in their own way. As the formerly pregnant Woodhouse, Rasmussen might just take the honors as the most unsettling, but the competition is fierce. Yet, somehow horror film and mumblecore actor-director Joe Swanberg adds a messy but unexpectedly moving human dimension to the proceedings as Michaels’ in-for-it husband Patrick.

It is no hyperbole to say Proxy will surprise even old jaded genre hands. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Parker’s film is its distribution deal with IFC Midnight. Regardless, here it is. Recommended for those who appreciate dark psychological thrillers with a healthy disregard for polite conventions, Proxy opens this Friday (late night 4/18) at the IFC Center and also launches on VOD.