Monday, September 24, 2018

Prox Partum Depression

Quick Plot: As Esther leaves her final OBGYN appointment, a hooded stranger attacks her from behind, stealing some cash and inflicting terrible harm on her pregnant belly. Having lost her baby, Esther is visited by a hospital social worker who encourages her to try out some support groups.

It seems as though that's exactly what she needs. The reserved, distant Esther lives alone with a tank of fish who don't survive her hospital stay. At a group meeting, Esther is befriended by the much more put-together Melanie, a friendly woman recovering from the loss of her husband and son at the hands of a drunk driver.

Proxy is a film best watched knowing nothing more than the above synopsis, so those who haven't seen the film should probably stop here. It's not quite perfect, but it's an intriguing dark ride that makes an appropriately chilling followup to director Zack Parker's outstanding debut Scalene. You can find it streaming on Hulu.

Now let's talk.

There is much to be said for films that don't reveal what they're about until well into their running time. Proxy begins as Esther's story, as we struggle to understand this distant, lonely victim of a truly horrible crime trying to rebuild her life.

Or so we think.

Aside from the fact that Esther is far more complicated than we ever imagined, Proxy also does some fancy footwork in changing gears halfway through to become Melanie's story. Melanie, an equally if not more damaged woman, is a Muchausen by Proxy poster girl with dangerous ambitions about playing the hero. 

Much like Scalene, Proxy doesn't comfort its audience with any sense of morality. Our only real sympathetic character (the always welcome Joe Swanberg as Melanie's clueless husband) is so specifically kept in the margins that while our hearts go out to his plight, he never really seems to stand a chance. In an odd inverse, Kristina Kelebe's hell-in-a-pickup-truck spurned ex-con is introduced as an untamed animal with a violent streak, only to become something of an antihero purely because her crimes seem somehow purer than the wolf-in-sheep's-blouse-wearing Melanie.

Zack Parker, along with his writing partner Kevin Donner, is an exciting filmmaker with a wonderfully twisted ability to tell incredibly challenging stories. Next to Scalene, Proxy also reminded me a bit of Simon Rumley's Red White and Blue, a similarly harrowing genre-bender that successfully suffocates its audience in the amount of human-caused tragedy that attacks its characters.

Proxy isn't a fun film (though it packs its own brand of occasional dark humor), nor is it scary in any traditional sense. But it will, I imagine, lodge itself deep under many a viewer's skin. If it doesn't, you probably shouldn't volunteer to babysit anytime soon.

High Points
I've said it before and I'll say it again: a well-executed ambiguous ending can be a truly beautiful thing

Low Points
It says a lot about a horror film when a 2-hour running length isn't long enough, but I really did wish we had just a little more time learning about Esther and what brought her to the kind of place where, well, she'd ask her girlfriend to anonymously crush her almost-ready-to-deliver baby

Lessons Learned
Tattoo artists who want to know what's going on read the newspapers

Local newsmen are loyal to their sources

Think very carefully before asking someone who has just gone through tremendous loss, "So how are you doing?"

Proxy won't make anyone feel better about the world, but it will hopefully give many a film fan hope for the future of honest, cruel, and incredibly rich cinema. I'll continue to buy what Zack Parker is selling...even if I want to curl up in a ball with my far better intentioned cats after.

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