TRIGGER WARNING: This review contains discussions of rape and domestic abuse.
When we here at CineDump first conceived the idea to profile 28 amazing women and films during Women in Horror Month, I immediately blurted out, “We have to cover Proxy.” (And yes, sharp-eyed reader, I did intend that lovely little conception pun.) If you haven’t seen Proxy, don’t feel bad, a lot of people didn’t. Released in 2013 by IFC Midnight, Proxy, like the lost and lonely souls in the movie, has never gotten the love it needed. But today, we’re going to correct that cosmic injustice and restore order to the universe. So, if we wake up Monday and Trump is again just that churlish, simian fellow on NBC and not one single person is suggesting that grizzly bear attacks are the prime concern of our public school system, then you’re welcome, internet.
Let’s just dive right in: Proxy Just Does. Not. Play. As soon as you think it’s done with you--BAM, another round of retributive torture, brutal child murder, ugly rape play scenarios, and more insanity than would legally fit in a Lifetime movie marathon hits you square in the prefrontal cortex. Oh yes, we have such sights to show you…
Proxy is twisty as a crazy straw and crazier than your in-laws, and to give you more than the set-up would rob you of some of the weirdest reveals you will ever endure, and believe me, by the end, a little endurance will be needed. The film begins with a quiet young woman, Esther Woodhouse (extra points for that Sylvia Plath shout out!), walking home from a OBGYN appointment. She’s massively pregnant and due to deliver any day now, when suddenly, she’s grabbed and forced into an alley. Her masked attacker beats her to the ground and then pounds her swollen stomach over and over with a brick. Roll credits. Welcome to Proxy.
I know feverishly and inarticulately praising a movie like Proxy makes me look like the worst kind of person. Aside from being beautifully made and constantly surprising, there isn’t much to the film other than a grand guignol psycho vs. psycho throw down. But, then again, I think that’s exactly what I love about it. Many women in modern horror films are either victims or sexless, perfect martyrs--women aren’t that simple, people aren’t that simple. For too long in the history of the world, all of the sins and vices of humankind were placed on women. But in modern cinema, the tendency to demonize women has swung too far the other way. Yes, I am incredibly glad that women are no longer society’s paradigm of depravity, but on the other hand, it is just as dehumanizing to constantly paint women as sweet, coy, potential sexdolls.
Another striking feature of the movie is the number of women it actually contains. We as an audience are used to seas of men with maybe one woman thrown in as a love interest. Some of our most celebrated films don’t even have women in them. Women are everywhere in this film--from the crowded support group a few characters attend, to the inept cop, a beloved genre staple almost always played by a man. Proxy, for all of its insanity, gives a very dysfunctional group of women space and time to interact. Of course, it could it argued that showing a bunch of women literally tearing each other apart is the last thing feminism needs. In many ways, I agree with this, but think of all those great, gory man vs. man films: Reservoir Dogs, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now. Of course these movies contain veiled and not-so-veiled warnings about this type of behavior, but it doesn’t detract from the glamour of the stylized violence. People don’t remember Reservoir Dogs for its anti-capitalist undertones, they remember the ear-slicing scene.
Yes, Proxy is excessive, mordant, and maybe a misogynist’s worst nightmare. But it gives horror something it’s been missing: the idea that women are humans. And, since this is a horror movie, the humans in it are despicable, mean, and monstrous. Just one year after Proxy, Annabel was released. A pseudo-prequel to The Conjuring, it’s a blatant cash grab with a narrow, unimaginative view of women. Repeatedly, the viewer is told that a woman’s highest calling is motherhood, the greatest love on earth is between a mother and child, and this is all topped off with a black woman, whose only role in the film is to provide aid and succor to a rich white family, happily killing herself so sacred Caucasian motherhood can remain intact. These two films represent the two extremes of depicting women in horror movies. While I personally prefer Proxy’s blood stained fangs to Annabel’s gender-essentializing, racially determined, tinfoil halo (yeah, I didn’t really like Annabel that much if you haven’t guessed), the truth has got to be somewhere in between. Until horror figures out how to make the two extremes meet, watch Proxy, it’s crazy, dirty fun and gives the genre something it truly needs, some love-to-hate, so-bad-they’re-good, vicious-as-a-mad-dog villainnesses.