- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Karin Crighton
- Published on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 20:42
Proxy Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by IFC Midnight
Directed by Zack Parker
Written by Zack Parker and Kevin Donner
2013, 122 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Released on April 18th, 2014
Alexia Rasmussen as Esther Woodhouse
Alexa Havins as Melanie Michaels
Joe Swanberg as Patrick Michaels
Kristina Klebe as Anika Barön
I’ve never been so surprised by a movie. It is rare that a director allows the narrative to travel without overt clues and indulgent explanations to the audience, ruining its own surprise before you can get there on your own. Zack Parker, writer/director of Scalene, which I also loved, presents Proxy, a film that will shock you within four minutes and keep you guessing through the last frame. It’s impossible to explain why I’m so enthralled by this movie without a few spoilers, so mild to full blown spoilers are marked below.
Proxy is a reference to Münchausen by Proxy, a syndrome in which a parent (typically the mother) invents injuries or physically injures their child in order to gain attention from medical professionals. What occurs doesn’t exactly fall within the strict guidelines of the disease, but it’s never actually mentioned in the film, so it’s forgivable. The indirect reference is actually genius; a subtle nod that while this movie is fictional, this syndrome is not and it’s highly likely this sh*t is happening around you right now.
MORE SPOILERS AHEAD. If you don’t want to know, just watch the film. It’s good.
Esther Woodhouse (played by the distractingly beautiful Alexis Rasmussen) is attacked while leaving her obstetrician just two weeks prior to her due date. The unseen assailant uses a brick to smash her swollen stomach multiple times before taking her cash and leaving Esther unconscious to miscarry in an alley. Pushed by detectives and hospital social workers to get help, alone and lonely Esther turns to a support group for women who have lost their children. There she meets Melanie, a ray of sunshine in Esther’s isolated life. Things are looking up for Esther...until she finds out Melanie has been lying. About everything. Absolutely everything.
REALLY BIG SPOILERS AHEAD. Stop reading if you like surprises.
Melanie’s child is not dead. Melanie enjoys walking into department stores and screaming that she’s lost her child only to “miraculously” find him in the parking lot so the store clerks and managers can fawn over her in her time of terror. Naturally Esther is a bit surprised when she witnesses this. But also pleased. After all, she arranged the attack that killed her child. She only wanted the attention of being pregnant, not motherhood itself. When she reveals that she and Melanie are of a mind, Melanie recoils in horror and demands Esther get out of her life forever.
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!!
.In return, Esther kills Melanie’s son to show her that she is the same as Melanie after all. It’s only the attention she wanted; not her son. Right?
Okay, you can breathe now.
Münchausen by proxy is a terrible and delicate subject; I’ve not personally seen another filmmaker willing to tackle something so upsetting as mother/child violence. Parker, however, does so with grace. These women are not redeemed and yet neither are they vilified; Parker’s not a misogynist by casting women in this light, he seems to honestly say there are many sick people in the world and these women happen to be so. He balances the women’s violence with male violence when Melanie’s husband Patrick is undone by grief and fantasizes about torture.
The lead performances are outstanding. Joe Swanberg is heart-wrenching as the grieving father Patrick. As he spirals into a pit of despair, his anger and hatred takes a terrifying twist. Alexa Havins (Melanie) keeps her cards close and sucks the viewer into her world until you nearly sympathize with her before destroying you. Alexis Rasmussen is delightfully subtle as Esther; her curved posture and barely audible voice intimating her isolation and vulnerability. I’m not thrilled with Kristina Klebe as Anika; I think her performance was committed but I’m a little tired of the butch, ex-con lesbian girlfriend route. It did need to be that well-traveled road to spurn the payback plot arc, but there could have been a more creative solution to that problem.
The plot moves along well; there are a few slow exchanges that drag the pace down and a few scenes that could have gone to the editing room floor. A shotgun blood-splatter sequence is just gross. The triumph of Proxy is just how damn smart it is. Parker never dumbs down his story; every clue of Esther’s past, every step in Melanie’s plan is there for the finding but never the taking. He’s a master of the slow reveal, and just like Scalene, it pays off.
They also both involve guns near bathtubs. Not really sure about that bit. But Proxy is good. Sure about that.
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