Zach Parker's Proxy feels at times like an homage to the early work of Brian De Palma, which is fine, since so many of De Palma's early films felt like homages to Alfred Hitchcock. Parker's film interests me in that the influences are easily seen, yet, it has its own identity and works very well as a strange little thriller. The opening scene feels like familiar horror movie territory, as Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) endures a routine meeting with her OB. Esther seems uninterested in her pregnancy, and her eyes glaze over when she answers her doctor's questions.
During her walk home, she's attacked by a stranger who drags her into an alley and hits her in the belly several times with a brick. This horrible assault results in Esther losing her baby. The alley attack has already been cited for driving unsuspecting customers from theaters. It is a reasonably strong scene, but it shouldn't deter anyone from enjoying a unique and peculiar movie. Halfway through the story, you'll have been taken through so many twists and turns that you might not even remember the brutal opening.
Esther, for instance, attends a women's support group to discuss her loss. She befriends Melanie (Alexa Havens), a friendly blonde who is there because her son and husband died in a car accident. Yet, when Esther finds herself at a shopping mall to apply for a job, she spots Melanie running through the store, screaming that her son has been kidnapped by a stranger. But didn't Melanie say her son had been killed?
There's a lot more, including some angry lesbians, a shotgun death, and a sense of creeping doom that reminds one not only of De Palma, but of vintage Roman Polanski. (I imagine Esther Woodhouse was named as a nod to Rosemary Woodhouse in Rosemary's Baby.) But the movie's success is not only because of the occasional blasts of violence and unexpected twists, but because Paker is so comfortable with the material. Most films with as many twists as Proxy seem silly after a while, but Parker, who co-wrote the screenplay with Kevin Donner, has a way of unfurling the story so we go along with it. This is no easy feat.
There are some good acting turns, too. Joe Swanberg, an actor I haven't always liked, is very good here, more serious than usual. Havens has a few showstopping scenes as the mysterious Melanie, and Kristina Klebe has some great scenes as one of Esther's few friends. Rasmussen enchants as Esther, walking a fine line between pathetic and strange. She has a touching scene where she explains how she'd enjoyed being pregnant because people paid attention to her, yet she admits she never really wanted to be a mother. In a film that will make its bones on blood and suspense, the scene is surprising, and delivered beautifully.
Parker knows that the best thrillers have room for strong, human moments. Swanberg, for instance, has a scene where he laments losing his son. Such scenes can feel heavy-handed in the middle of a horror thriller, but they work here. Parker also knows how to create the iconic scene - there were at least four or five stunning tableaux in the movie - and he fills the screen with big moments and chilling little details. De Palma hasn't made one like this in years. Proxy is a sophisticated, daring movie.