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by Jay Seaver

"Disturbing, but diluted."
2 stars

Give "Proxy" filmmaker Zack Parker this: Unlike many movies that wind up labeled "horror", his delivers something that its audience will want to put out of their heads afterward because it doesn't bear thinking about. Unfortunately, he keeps going, stretching things out long enough that the disturbing idea loses a bit of its punch, and the finale winds up being twisted in a way that is perhaps too familiar.

Things start out shockingly enough, as Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) - young, pregnant, and alone - is brutally attacked just outside her obstetrician's office, losing the baby and gaining an ugly scar. She's referred to a support group for parents who have lost children, where she meets Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), and the pair soon become friends. The thing is, neither of them is quite so alone as they have led the other to believe.

Why would one person lead another to believe she was in such a situation? The title gives a hint, although Parker and co-writer Kevin Donner never opt to bring in a mental health professional to deliver exposition on Münchhausen's-by-proxy. That's fine, helpful even; pointing out that this condition occurs enough to have a name might make the idea that people can crave the attention that comes with difficult circumstances seem less aberrant, no matter how rare it's described as being. That isn't particularly a problem here, as each thing we learn about what is going on is incrementally creepier without ever being linked to something that could qualify as an explanation, let alone a justification, and the situation is set up in such a way that it does not necessarily require constant escalation to keep things tense.

So what goes wrong? Well, the movie is almost two hours long, and even if you don't believe that the ideal length for this sort of small-cast horror movie is about 75 minutes, that's a fair amount of time to fill even with a slow burn or a more complicated plot. Proxy never actually has all that much going on at once, though, and attempts to make up for it by shifting perspectives, but that only helps so much: For all that the first change in point of view is kind of shocking, the effect actually winds up being that nobody's story really gets told in full, and it's seldom subjective enough to get the feeling of truth forming out of subjectivity. Then, toward the end, things just get stretched too far - one character's timeline just doesn't make sense, and the filmmakers seem to back off the ugly idea in the center that makes the movie interesting. In one case, it seems to be to preserve the option of a character being somewhat sympathetic; in another, it just seems to be about going to what feels like a more conventional bit of exploitation. It's a further extrapolation of what's been going on before, but the details feel like oft-repeated satire rather than unfamiliar territory.

The cast at least does what it can; Alexia Rasmussen is certainly memorable as the disturbed, too-quiet Esther, especially as the audience gets a closer look at what she's thinking. Alexa Havins plays Melanie is the bright counterpart to Esther's darkness, with a smile that is a bit too wide but not so much as to be obviously untrustworthy; she can almost convince the audience that she's just releasing tensions harmlessly at times. Compared to them, Kristina Klebe is enjoyably blunt in the way she portrays Esther's lover Anika, while Joe Swanberg helps give some weight to the proceedings as the guy who reacts to tragedy with unalloyed despair.

Considering how unnerving what's at the center of this story is, this could be a difficult but rewarding film. And maybe, if Parker had pared a fair amount away, it would certainly be that. He and the other filmmakers just don't seem to recognize when enough is enough, though, and how "Proxy" was able to legitimately disturb is rather faded by the time the film is over.

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originally posted: 05/19/14 15:09:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2013 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2014 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.

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  18-Apr-2014 (NR)
  DVD: 12-Aug-2014


  DVD: 12-Aug-2014

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