For a little while, Proxy almost serves as a relief of sorts. Our culture is so relentlessly concerned with flimsily over-compensating political correctness that the film’s potentially clueless offensiveness scans as almost weirdly innocent. Director Zack Parker appears to have mainlined all of Brian De Palma’s movies over a short period of time and concocted Proxy as a response to the critics who accused the legendary director of misogyny and homophobia, as this film is embedded with a responsive, and hopeful, subtext of “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” The director delivers his biggest shock effect almost immediately, when nine-months-pregnant Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) leaves her gynecologist’s appointment only to be accosted in the street by a hooded assailant who hits her on the head and proceeds to bash in her pronounced stomach with a brick until blood pools on the ground between her legs.
It’s a self-consciously gross opening, awkwardly staged with the action dead center in the foreground of the screen to emphasize its awfulness, that’s meant to clue you in to Parker’s willingness to resort to anything to goose his audience; it’s also intended to keep you awake for the very long hour it takes for the director to get his narrative balls in the air. It’s clear early on that Esther isn’t quite mentally right, and that her intangible wrongness doesn’t have much to do with the child she lost in the opening of the film. She soon attends a trauma group for parents of dead and missing children, and meets Melanie (Alexa Havins), another grieving mother who takes an instant liking to Esther’s social ineptitude and self-loathing. Esther and Melanie begin meeting privately, and an obviously romantic tension arises between them, and that’s when things begin to really go haywire.
Parker does manage to stage one diverting slow-motion set piece that borrows liberally from De Palma’s Femme Fatale, while unexpectedly altering Proxy’s entire emphasis in a fashion that’s ultimately disastrous. (If you know the De Palma, you may be misdirected in more ways than one, as Parker lifts a key image, of disrupted bathwater, that signified a redefinition of reality that never subsequently occurs here.) Proxy transforms itself from a meek lo-fi indie stalker thriller in the key of May to a hysterically sexist and homophobic revenge film that follows a trio of women as they’re pulled into an ongoing cycle of torture and child murder. It’s as pleasant, and absurd, as it sounds.
So, Proxy won’t be endorsed by GLAAD anytime soon, but to find it offensive is to compliment it, as the film is nothing more than a string of happenstances that have been staged in the hopes of courting outrage. Despite the ludicrously padded running time, Parker allows no room for us to empathize with the pain of the women at the narrative’s center, and the threadbare production values and amateurish acting inform the reality of the film with a shakiness that’s mostly unintentional. Parker seems to have misunderstood De Palma’s films as crucially as the latter’s detractors: He sees only the cruelty in the great filmmaker’s work, and none of the love.