It’s any mother-to-be’s nightmare: Walking to her car after a routine ultrasound, nine-months-pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is brutally attacked, her belly beaten with a brick. The baby is dead on arrival. Cowriter-director Zack Parker certainly knows how to grab his audience, and he maintains an impressive level of tension through the first hour of this initially riveting, finally ludicrous thriller.
The introverted Esther’s attempts to deal with this unspeakable tragedy are strange to say the least. She tells the police she has no friends or family and takes a too-intimate shine to Melanie (Alexa Havins), the chummy woman she befriends at a support group. Everything feels a bit off—compellingly so—until the first of several narrative twists (no spoilers here) clues us in that this was no random attack.
Unfortunately, the clearer the plot becomes, the sillier things get, until we’re in the kind of cheekily exploitative territory Steven Soderbergh recently mined in his borderline-offensive Side Effects. Parker has a strong compositional sense (a set piece involving a bathtub, a shotgun and slo-mo blood spatter has a horrifyingly operatic grandeur) that’s often at odds with the cheap, consumer-camera textures of the digital imagery. His actors, meanwhile, are a wildly uneven bunch, ranging from the truly exceptional Rasmussen to the cringingly amateurish Joe Swanberg as Melanie’s paunchy ape of a husband. There’s enough talent here to suggest that Parker could one day give us a truly memorable white-knuckler, but Proxy is too tenderfooted to stand on its own.
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