Proxy was recommended to me by a friend whose opinion I deeply respect. I also heard a positive mention of it on Killer POV. (can you see where this is going?) Even though Netflix estimated that I would only like it 1.5 stars, I checked it out. Netflix is actually pretty bad at guessing how much I will like or dislike a film. So, I didn’t let that estimate color my expectations too much. I give you this information for context. Now you know how I went into Proxy. Here’s what I got out of it.
Mousy, stooped Esther is having a baby. In fact, she looks to be right on the brink of literally having her baby. After an ultrasound appointment at which she and her baby are declared healthy (though, she’s obviously indifferent. so… not mentally healthy it would seem), she’s attacked. Her belly is smashed repeatedly with a brick, killing the baby. Yeah, it’s brutal. Her life after the attack is quiet and solitary until she starts attending a support group for parents who’ve lost children. There, she meets Melanie, who she is drawn to, in part, because she doesn’t seem as depressed as everyone else in the group. Then Esther’s very butch sociopathic (not to mention jealous) girlfriend, Anika, re-enters her life. (it’s integral to her character. i’m not masculinity shaming, i promise) Shocking character secrets are revealed, horrendous violence ensues, and dire consequences play out.
This film has A LOT going for it. The individual character twists are mind-blowing (that’s hyperbole, of course, but it is appropriate here). The subject – the death of a child – is every parent’s (and every decent human being’s) nightmare. There is some extremely intense brutality as well. The characters – laudably, mostly women – have some depth. There’s a particularly intense and violent slow-motion sequence at a pivotal point in the story that beautifully conveys the laser-beam focus on specific details and the distortion of human perception of time in a moment of crisis. There’s plenty of good stuff in there! That said (uh oh), the film never hits a good stride. The pacing is all over the place, and the ensemble story never interweaves well. The characters practically have their own vignettes in which they interact with another character, rather than editing the film so that it feels more like they inhabit the same world when they aren’t face-to-face. This makes the film feel over-long (which, it is, at 2 hours) The film is also all over the place in tone. It shifts from maudlin picking-up-the-pieces tragedy to human connection to mystery to stalker thriller back to maudlin picking-up-the-pieces tragedy, and so on. These tonal shifts often align with separate character arcs that shift viewers’ sympathies, leaving them without an emotional anchor in the story. Even the style shifts – in one segment we can see what a character is imagining even though the rest of the film is rooted firmly in reality. Except in one other scene, where an act of violence results in a Japanese gore film volume of blood being sprayed in characters’ faces and on the walls. The rest of the violence in the film is realistically portrayed. Here’s another area where it’s all over the place: the acting. Each of the principal actors had moments of great acting and moments of community rec center level acting. I found myself wondering if they were trying to save money/time by only allowing one take during shooting.
The Final Cut: Proxy is a great-on-paper emotional drama peppered with some disturbing, intense violence. Unfortunately, the film shifts arbitrarily in tone, quality, and focus too much to come anywhere near greatness. (sorry, Bill!)