Parenthood is a terrifying thing. Having kids is an amazing experience but there’s no doubt that they really do suck the life out of you. If you’re any kind of parent you’ll push through the hard parts and focus on being utterly fulfilled with all the great ones but it’s very easy to see how people could lose it. There isn’t a parent alive that hasn’t felt like they were about to at one point, and that’s why there’s so many great horror movies revolving around kids. They’re inherently evil little creatures.
But parents can be just as scary, and pregnant women… hoo boy. As it starts it seems as though Proxy could be positively mentioned among other recent great horror tales revolving around parenthood- fucked up and terrifying movies like Grace, Antichrist, and Inside- but it stumbles in its presentation.
Esther is nine months pregnant and returning from her latest checkup when she’s attacked by an unseen assailant. A brick to the back of her head knocks her out, multiple slams to her stomach leaving her without child. When Esther wakes up she tells the doctors and police officers that she doesn’t know anyone with a motive for doing this, which confuses them, because this is the sort of crime that suggests someone with a grudge. Surely she must have issues with the father, a family member, someone she knows. But Esther doesn’t really have anyone in her life- there’s no father either, since she got her baby from a sperm bank. She doesn’t have any friends or family for support so a social worker convinces her that she needs someone- anyone- to talk to about her experience. She ends up going to a local support group and clicking with Melanie, a woman who lost her husband and son to a drunk driver years ago.
The only thing is, Esther sees Melanie shopping a few days later, freaking out and screaming that she’s lost her son. Esther follows her at a distance and is shocked to witness Melanie find her son, who she had forgotten in the car, distressed but still very much alive.
Esther becomes even more fascinated with Melanie and starts to try and figure out what’s going on here.
If there’s one thing to be said for this film is that you don’t know where it will end up. After seeing so many movies with so many twists you would think you’d know where things were going but Proxy is good in that it constantly messes with your expectations. Right from the start, from that brutal beating that leaves a pregnant woman collapsed in an alley with blood pooling between her legs, you know that you’re in unsafe territory, and it only gets more treacherous as it goes along.
Unfortunately that applies to the quality of the actors as well. The main players are good but there’s a few minor characters whose line readings are pretty painful. (Joe Swanberg appears in a weird role as well, one that makes it seem as though Devin got off easy.) The film also changes points of view and leaves us straddled with people we don’t care about, facing major events you won’t care how they play out.
One night during Fantastic Fest over drinks at the BAD house I got into an argument with a filmmaker who thought that Proxy was decent because it was self-aware of how silly and melodramatic it was- I was of the mind that it was complete unaware. It’s not an argument that leaves Proxy in good regards either way. The film starts off with a slow pace but it’s interesting enough, with a neat mystery and the promise of craziness to come. But when things are revealed and the story shifts into the next gear through a (hilariously slow-motion) twist, the film drives off into a ditch. Parenthood is rough- sadly, Proxy is too.