Proxy

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Alexia Rasmussen in Proxy.
"Director Parker excels at misdirection but risks losing audience interest in the process."

A curious little film exploring the ramifications of mental ill health, Proxy is far too ambitious for its budget but contains some good ideas that hint at the capacity to do better. Opening with a brutal assault on a heavily pregnant woman (Esther, played by Alexia Rasmussen), it unfolds as a mystery, with the twists starting early, but packs in way more layers of plot than it can do justice to in its two hour running time, whilst characters remain underdeveloped.

Rasmussen, by far the most interesting actor in the film, delivers a tightly focused performance that send confusing signals from the start - something that could have been developed to powerful effect in a more coherent film. Esther is traumatised, of course, so it's hard to get to know her straight away, and she's also alone, a detail that comes to make more sense as the story unfolds. She tells the nurse the only person she's close to is her fish, yet she makes no attempt to arrange for it to be fed whilst she's in hospital. Leaving that support system, she is directed to a support group for survivors of child-related trauma. There she meets Melanie (Alexa Havins), an equally troubled woman who laments the death of her husband and son. The two bond over coffee, but the next week Esther witnesses something that makes her doubt Melanie's story. It's the sort of thing that might make most people wary; it makes Esther intrigued.

Copy picture

Shifting focus half way through and playing with audience sympathies throughout, director Parker excels at misdirection but risks losing audience interest in the process. Some critics have described the film as Hitchcockian, but one of the things Hitchcock was best at was creating characters who remained interesting even as they grew more unlikeable; Parker can't quite pull that off. A pivotal scene halfway through is impressively stylish given that it had to be put together from a single take, but is so out of step with the pacing of earlier scenes that it comes across like a dream sequence and it takes a while to figure out that it's supposed to be real; there's a consequent risk of emotional detachment. Rasmussen's complexity is dismissed far too early and Havins, though believable enough, simply doesn't have the charisma needed to drive the story forward.

Complicating this further is a sub-plot involving a vengeful lover that's straight out of cheesy stalker movie territory and ill at ease alongside the more complex psychological material. The support group as a place where troubled people meet each other is a nice idea but, realistic or not, one can only pack so many such characters into a film before it starts to fall apart. There's far too much high drama here with nothing to balance it. It's a shame because the film is well made and constitutes a bold stab at doing something different, but it's less than the sum of its parts.

Reviewed on: 30 Mar 2014
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Proxy packshot
A pregnant woman meets a bereaved mother in a support group for survivors of violence, but nothing is as it seems.

Festivals:

Glasgow 2014

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