By Don Simpson | April 14, 2014
Director: Zack Parker
Writers: Kevin Donner, Zack Parker
Starring: Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havins, Joe Swanberg, Kristina Klebe
Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) seems to live a very lonely life. According to her, she only has her fish to look after her. An incredibly disturbing event prompts Esther to begin attending a support group. This is where she befriends Melanie (Alexa Havins), a woman with whom she shares a uniquely demented talent for storytelling. While seeming to enjoy each other’s company, the two women weave their own versions of reality intertwined with a confounding web of lies and manipulations.
Considering that a few surprising narrative shifts occur fairly early in the narrative, it is best not to discuss any specific plot details of Zack Parker’s Proxy. It is worth noting that an early scene is especially unnerving — and debatably a bit too blunt in its brutal depiction of the violent act; it will surely scare away some viewers, especially pregnant women, pretty early on. If you make it through that scene, the payoff will soon come in the form of Parker’s prodigiousness in orchestrating a perplexing variety of narrative twists and reveals. It is truly rare to find a film that is actually able to surprise the audience; and while most of the twists and reveals to be discovered within Proxy are not all that far-fetched, even the most perceptive viewers will not expect most of them (though I bet some snarky critics will boast otherwise).
Just as the characters masterfully manipulate each other, Parker subtly alters our perception of the film’s reality with his deft directorial hands and keen comprehension of cinematic language. By constantly shifting the narrative perspective from one unreliable character to another, we never know whether we are experiencing the respective character’s reality or fantasy. All the while, Parker thankfully avoids the overused narrative trapping of the Rashomon effect; instead, Proxy unfolds in a linear format that seamlessly shifts from one character’s perspective to the next.
The overt falseness of the cartoonishly melodramatic characterizations can be a bit off-putting, but this all plays to the typically exaggerated perspective from which the narrative is being told at any given time. The gaze of the characters, particularly whoever owns the perspective for each particular scene, often reveals the level of earnestness. The characters rarely make eye contact, their gaze is constantly shifting, or fixated downward. The one moment that seems to be the most grounded in reality is an emotionally devastating monologue delivered by Patrick (Joe Swanberg) while staring squarely at the ground. Stuck in a world that seems to be populated by batshit crazy women, Patrick experiences the most manic personality shifts of all, flipping from pensively stoic to maniacally violent on a whim. Regardless, Patrick is certainly the most empathetic of the characters, which is not all that surprisingly considering that this female-centric story is being told by a male filmmaker.