From IFC Midnight

Zack Parker’s PROXY: Twisting Tales of Extraordinary Madness

Proxy. 2014.  Dir. Zack Parker.
Starring Kristina Klebe, Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins, and Alexia Rasmussen. IFC Midnight. Unrated. 120 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★★
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Previously, I’ve seen Zack Parker’s work with his earlier film Scalene, which I actually really enjoyed. Perhaps enjoy is not the best verb to describe the experience of that film, but either way it was effective, and I knew I wanted to see more from Parker. While filmed in 2013, this didn’t hit Canada until 2014. This is by far one of the best movies I saw last year. There is no doubt. Parker provides not only several gruesome moments to make this partly a horror film, he does an excellent job of intertwining several stories into one overall plot and allowing it to flow together coherently. A lesser filmmaker might get lost trying to wrap a few stories into one thrilling plot, Parker does so with a lot of grace, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to bring up its similarities to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Proxy starts off with Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) walking home after a check-up appointment with her doctor, as she’s very far along in her pregnancy. On the way, Esther is knocked out by someone in a red hooded sweatshirt, and terribly assaulted; the attacker smashes her belly in over and over with a brick. The baby is pronounced dead, but Esther survives. Afterwards, having no real family or friends, Esther goes to support groups where she ends up becoming friends with a woman named Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who says her husband and little boy were killed by a drunk driver. However, Esther sees Melanie in a department store later yelling that her son has been kidnapped, looking for help. After Melanie leaves the store, though, Esther sees her bringing out the very alive boy to be “found”. From here, things begin to spin out of control, as Melanie is exposed, and Esther herself is not everything she truly seems.
Soon, one vicious event begins a domino effect that ultimately affects the lives of everyone involved with both Esther and Melanie.
Zack-Parker_web3To say anything else about the plot of this film would be to ruin the movie for anyone who has yet to see it. While I’ve said a bit, the best comes once things really kick into gear after Esther sees Melanie with her child. I honestly had no idea where Proxy would end. This is one of the few films to really throw me for a loop. This is great because the plot structure really reminds me a lot of Psycho. Whereas the Hitchcock classic begins focused on Marion Crane and then grimly switches gears when Norman Bates is introduced into the mix, Proxy also begins with a character who sort of walks us cinematically into the real plot of the film when Esther finds out her friend Melanie is a con-artist, and then everything unfolds. It’s a beautiful way to structure things.
Zack-Parker_web5I know there are similarities to other films, but I really believe Parker fixed in on some great Hitchcock-style techniques, specifically those in Psycho. For instance, the score is really gorgeous and dark and sneaky. There are moments where tension ratchets up because Parker has such an enormous, sweeping score that makes those emotional and tense moments come across even more effectively. Just as Hitchcock had those strings in the right places for Psycho, as does Parker here with his film. I think, these days, suspense and tension are often left by the wayside in the hands of certain directors. Parker is not one of those. He keeps things very unsettling and you’re never sure of the ground you’re treading on. This film keeps coming and coming until there’s nothing left to your nerves.
Zack-Parker_web2I’ve always liked Joe Swanberg, and while there are some great performances by both Anika Barön, as well as Alexa Havins, I think he really does some of the best work going on in Proxy. The story is centered on the women of the film, however, Swanberg is one of the characters most affected by everything which happens in the plot. Without ruining too much, you really see the pain in this character come through in Swanberg. He’s great at playing normal people. That probably has to do with the fact he directs his own stuff, and acts in a lot, almost constantly. He does a lot of films. And most are highly independent, so they usually go for a quite realistic approach. I think this makes Swanberg a great fit for the role. His performance is nice and subdued. The overall plot made me feel bad for his character, but his abilities as an actor make things all the more sympathetic. Really great stuff.
Alexa Havins has to be mentioned, as well. It’s impossible not to comment on her great acting. The character she plays, Melanie, is absolutely warped – beyond belief. I think the character could have easily come off much to theatrical and overblown. Havins plays this great. There are times she really comes across as a scary monster; I wouldn’t doubt there are people out there so consumed with a need for attention to the point they would do the most awful things imaginable. It’s an effective performance, and the character’s story really draws you in with Havins playing it so appropriately.
proxy_01_largeThis is one of the best films from last year, but it’s also one of the better  movies I’ve seen in the last decade. Especially films in the horror genre. There are plenty of wild moments, in terms of blood and otherwise, however, this film really works on a horror level like Hitchcock’s Psycho. Parker does throw in a more than acceptable amount of blood and gore. Mainly what he does is make things into a psychological nightmare. While we begin the film feeling as if certain characters are the worst of the ensemble, later events come to change those opinions, and it’s just a really interesting character piece wrapped up in horror & thriller elements. This is flawless. A great modern horror masterpiece, and I continue to wait on more great work by Zack Parker.

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ALMOST HUMAN: Help, My Best Friend is a Murderous Alien!

Almost Human. 2013. Directed & Written by Joe Begos.
Starring Graham Skipper, Josh Ethier, Vanessa Leigh, Susan T. Travers, and Anthony Amaral III. IFC Midnight.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
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While this was made in 2013 and released in certain areas, this didn’t make its way to Canada until 2014, so it’s one of my favourite films of the past year. Though, I’m sure many will have their own issues with this film directed by Joe Begos (his first feature), this is one of the best alien abduction films in the past decade. It’s a lower budget independent film, but it packs all the solid punch of a really great big budget sci-fi thriller.

Almost Human tells us of the disappearance of Mark Fisher, who is sucked into the sky by a mysterious blue light, as he leaves behind a helpless lover and his best friend Seth (Graham Skipper). Almost two years later, lights in the sky appear just as they did that fateful night. All of a sudden, Seth’s small town suffers a rash of brutal killings possibly perpetrated by one man. It turns out Mark has come home. While he may be almost human, he is still far from it. He came back to take what’s his, and to help his abductors begin a reign of terror on planet earth.
AlmostHumanJoshFeatYes, there are a few instances where the acting in Almost Human is not perfect. I don’t always need an indie film to have stellar acting. I can’t handle bad acting, and there wasn’t any here, but certainly a few scenes could have been played better with more experienced actors. That being said, none of these small moments ruin anything in the long run. They do nothing to subvert the tension or the horror in any way. There’s just a couple “oops” moments where you’ll probably think to yourself they should have done another take or two – unfortunately, that’s not always hot things work, especially when it comes to indie film. Whereas some may think these bits detract from the overall film, they don’t. Just a few minor bumps in the road. Begos put together a really awesome little cast. The lead actors had chemistry together, and that’s one of the most important things. The opening scenes were really great suspenseful, tense moments and this really shows how well the cast work together, at their best.

almost-human-620x248I admire any film that tries to go for something less typical. While there are a few shots in this movie that will no doubt remind you of other alien abduction films, mostly it is some really fresh material. For instance, I know people will think of Fire in the Sky particularly, as that’s probably one of the greatest alien abduction films out there. Period. But this really takes on a much different angle, where the aliens aren’t merely abducting humans – they’re beaming them up and essentially arming them to go back to earth and either destroy or reproduce. Not only that, there are a few incredible effects that were very effective in making this a different film than the norm. One of the craziest moments is when Mark finally gets hold of his former girlfriend Jen – alien Mark latches onto her between the legs in order to fertilize her with the some more little alien babies. This was just wild and disturbing. The men are given similar treatment, but not anally, just through the mouth. I don’t know what that says about Begos or the aliens, but either way I thought it was a really unsettling and scary way to play out. It was bad enough watching Mark suction his alien mouth onto some of the men he implanted – this moment is just WHOA. I love it though, as sick as it is, because the whole thing works. This is a horrorshow for alien fanatics.
ah2-e1403025137805I’ve got no problems giving Almost Human a 3.5 out of 5 stars. Sometimes it frustrates me when people respond the way they do to new, fresh ideas. While this is a tale we’ve sort of seen before, it’s still different. We have a few movies dealing with aliens taking human form and hunting down actual humans, or just aliens preying on humans in general (everything from Predator to The Hidden), but this plot is really spectacular and original, as opposed to so many formulaic alien films. There are some incredible effects, which really drives things along in an alien-themed horror film.  A lot of the ways people envision aliens are extremely played out, but Begos opts to mostly show the aliens in terms of them commandeering human bodies; we get their sounds, their bodies (the suction cup mouth-thing), all that sort of stuff, while the aliens are still inside human forms. So in that way, Begos doesn’t have to go ahead and give us any full-fledged looks at one of the aliens. This way, the budget isn’t overblown, and playing into the title, makes things much more human.
gargawrgn_largeI’d recommend any fans of alien abduction films check this out. There are some fresh bits in here you don’t want to miss out on, and I think there are also a lot of great horror elements to make this a must-see. This is a great throwback to older horror movies, as well. It has a retro feel without really trying to pursue it – the whole mood and atmosphere sort of falls into place with everything else, all on its own. Begos is a talented young filmmaker. I hope he’ll continue to try and bring innovative ideas into horror – whether they be totally original, or interesting twists on familiar stories. Regardless, this shows a lot of potential. It also deserves a much higher rating than it has online, as well as deserves more praise in general. Great alien horror fun! Plus, the end was pretty savage. Some may call it typical, but it was pulled off better than most who go for the same sort of finale.