De Palma By “Proxy”

Posted: September 6, 2014 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Do you like Brian De Palma films? I like Brian De Palma films — in fact, I like ’em a lot. And while he’s arguably best known as a master of either the crime (ScarfaceThe UntouchablesCarlito’s Way) or horror (Carrie) genres, my personal favorite works in his oeuvre remain his stylish, overtly-sexualized, modern (well, for their time, at any rate) updates on the classic Hitchcock “psychological thriller” formula like SistersDressed To KillBody Double, and the woefully-underappreciated Raising Cain. Oh, sure, I  have a real soft spot for flicks like Phantom Of The Paradise and Blow Out as well, but I think he was at his best when channeling his inner “Master Of Suspense.”

Indie director Zack Parker evidently thinks so, too, because his 2013 effort Proxy (which he co-wrote with Kevin Donner and is now available on Netflix instant streaming, as well as on DVD and Blu-Ray from IFC Midnight — I watched it online, so no technical specs for the physical storage versions will be included with this review) is such a blatant riff on those movies that it’s almost criminal.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you — De Palma himself doesn’t seem to be making these sorts of things anymore, so I’m glad that someone is, and frankly,  Parker goes about the task really well. But let’s not kid ourselves.  everything he does here — from the taut classical  music cues to the operatic violence to the sexual psychosis to the “is it a dream or not?” mind-fuck sequences to the plot twist that sees who we thought to be our main protagonist killed off in favor of following somebody else’s story — well, it’s pure, unadulterated, classic BDP all the way.

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Shit, truth be told, I’m hesitant to even provide much of a story synopsis here because the various twists and turns are what make Proxy  so damn much creepy fun, and just about anything I tell you could be considered a “spoiler” to one degree or another — heck, I’m guilty of dropping a rather large one already — but here’s the general gist of things : nine-months pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen, in a performance stunningly reminiscent of Angela Bettis’  justifiably star-making turn in May) is violently attacked by an unknown assailant on her way back from an OB-GYN appointment and loses her baby and, very nearly, her own life. Her butch-in-the-extreme girlfriend , Anika (Kristina Klebe) isn’t exactly a whole lot of help in the “emotional support” department, but luckily she makes a new friend at her traumatic-event-survivors support group, Melanie (Alexa Havins), who’s apparently been through a heck of a lot herself, and whose husband, Patrick (Joe Swanberg) can best be described as a self-involved douchebag himself. So it’s natural enough that the two women would strike up a friendship, right?

Not that they know all that about each other right off the bat — and not that what little they do know is necessarily the truth. And that’s all I’m gonna say, because from here on out, things get pretty complicated. Suffice to say that you’re in for a wickedly intriguing little ride and that if you know a little bit about a psychological condition known as “Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome” going in, you’ll be somewhat better off.

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Like just about any effort that can best be described as pure homage, originality is in short supply here, but that’s not really the point. The point is for Parker to show off how well he “gets it” in terms of aping his chosen style, and boy, does he ever. There’s an endless series of expertly-delivered and masterfully-presented “pick your jaw up off the floor” moments to sink your teeth into here,  and if the you enjoy getting your hands — and mind — dirty in the dark backwater cesspools of the human condition, Proxy is guaranteed to be right up your alley. We’ve seen most of this done before, sure, but we haven’t seen it done this well in far too long.

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I see a fair amount of debate swirling around this film online, most of it focused on “what genre should we pigeonhole this into?,” but my response to that is pretty much “who cares?” Some want to brand it horror, others a thriller, still others psychodrama. For my money, it’s got elements of all of them in there somewhere, but pinning it down to one particular category is of no interest to me whatsoever. It’s just plain good, and that’s all I really care about.

Is it as good as vintage De Palma, back when he was really firing on all cylinders? Well, no, it isn’t. But it’s a stylish enough approximation of it to earn  “must-see” status from yours truly.

Comments
  1. I was thinking through most of this review, “Well, DePalma just picked up where Hitchcock left off, so it’s OK if this guy does the same…” but then you mentioned someone being attacked and losing a baby. I don’t think I can handle seeing that. So, maybe this guy will make more movies and I’ll watch one.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      The scene featuring the attack is actually pretty easy to handle compared to the revelations that come later as to the reasons behind it.

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