World premiering Tuesday night at the Toronto International Film Festival is the psychological thriller “Proxy,” about two women whose lives become intertwined in the aftermath of a vicious attack.
Directed and co-written by Zack Parker, the film opens with a brutal assault against the pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen), an attack that causes her to lose her baby. In a support group for grieving parents she meets Melanie (Alexa Havins), who provides a shoulder to lean on. From there the motives and intentions of both women get murkier and murkier. In supporting roles are filmmaker Joe Swanberg, expanding his recent streak of acting roles as Melanie’s husband, and Kristina Klebe as an angry ex.
Parker, 35, made the film in his hometown of Richmond, Ind., where he lives with his wife and three children, describing himself as “a filmmaker and stay-at-home parent.” Having studied film at UCLA and worked for a time for the legendary producer Roger Corman, Parker eventually returned to Indiana. “Proxy” marks the fourth feature film he has made there, beginning with his 2006 debut “Inexchange” and following up with 2007’s “Quench” and 2011’s “Scalene,” starring Margo Martindale.
“I don’t think I could have made any of these first four films if I wasn’t making them in Indiana,” Parker said, noting how he shot in some two dozen locations while making “Proxy” and only had to pay to use one of them, a bargain $250.
In making a film that is like “Fight Club” without the fighting, in that it involves people looking to others to fill the things missing in themselves, Parker and co-writer Kevin Donner have created a tense and unnerving story that keeps audiences guessing as to what will come next. But some viewers may not get to each twist of the plot, as the opening attack on the pregnant Esther is prolonged and vicious, with a blunt force.
The official TIFF catalog copy for the film warns that it “opens with some deeply disturbing content” while encouraging audiences to “stick with it.” The movie is seeking a distribution deal at the festival.
“I felt the opening had to hit the audience hard,” Parker said. “I tend to tell a story through a slow burn, so if you’re gonna stick with me for the payoff later, what I’ve learned from my other films is you gotta grab people at the beginning. I need to earn that time."
He added: “I wanted to throw people off-balance at first and let them think that anything can happen in this film. Once that sense of suspense is created, then I can do anything."
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