US | 2013 | Directed by Zack Parker

Logline: A grieving woman is befriended by another damaged soul with both women finding their lives dangerously and irrevocably entwined with their respective partners.

An unusually impressive movie, much more so than it should be considering how far-fetched the narrative is, but therein lies the nasty rub, as Proxy proves that if you pull the strings are made of the right fabric and pulled the right way, you can execute a horror-thriller with serious panache. Zack Parker has managed to mix a rare cocktail, a heady beverage that will kick the bar stool out from under you.

Proxy is the kind of Brian De Palma return to form we’ve been itching for, minus the flashy camera tricks. Perhaps Brian should commission a script from Parker and his co-screenwriter Kevin Donner, then we’d have a seriously ciné descent into lusty madness. But, Zack Parker’s low-budget doesn’t stop him from producing a compelling piece of cinema, even if it does take a little long to get to its rug-pulling denouement.

A heavily pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is brutally assaulted (a truly disturbing scene) after leaving her final check-up. She loses the baby, and consequently, she finds herself in a support group for grieving parents. Another mother, Melanie (Alexa Havins) befriends her, and Esther reveals the baby was conceived by sperm bank. Melanie claims her husband and baby were killed by a drunken driver, but at a later date Esther spies Melanie in a department store, hysterical, as, apparently, her son has just been kidnapped.

Then throw a vengeful lesbian lover and an unhinged husband into the stew.

Proxy twists and turns like a cut snake. Protagonists and antagonists swerve with seemingly little rhyme or reason. But then, that is half the point, as this is a study of unreliable states of being, and perspectives via psychological imbalance makes for interesting viewing in the right hands. The cast of unknowns (with the exception of indie veteran Joe Swanberg), deliver convincing performances. These are some truly screwed up misfits indeed.

Which brings me to the clever play on the meaning of the title. There’s a form of psychosis that results in a behavioral pattern known as Münchausen syndrome by proxy (I’d never heard of this before) where a parent or caregiver fabricates or exaggerates a child’s sickness or injury, or actually harms the child themselves, in order to gain attention from others. In simpler terms, it is a unique form of child abuse.

The literal meaning of the word “proxy” can be applied to Esther and Melanie who use each other (and others) for their own agenda that is outside that of the aberrant medical condition. But enough wallowing around in the plotted mire of these characters’ wicked, wicked ways! The less you know about Proxy, the more pleasurable the headfuck is.

Proxy will divide audiences, no doubt. Those that relish the mischievous narrative structure, savouring the demented power games, the murderous perversion, and those that find the movie far too ludicrous and long-winded to be taken seriously. I’m definitely on the dark and dangerous side of the fence.

Proxy screens as part of the 8th Sydney Underground Film Festival, Saturday 6th, 10:30pm, Factory Theatre, Marrickville.