‘Proximity’ Movie Review: Sci-Fi Grab Bag Is Nowhere Near Good Enough
A tale of alien abduction, Proxmity serves as an in-and-out impressive calling card for debuting feature writer and director Eric Demeusy. His training in animation and visual effects helped Demeusy create the Emmy-winning title sequences for Stranger Things and Game of Thrones. So it’s a given that this L.A.-based filmmaker knows how to get things started. Proximity kicks off with a flashback set in 1979, which isn’t a coincidence — that was the decade of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Steven Spielberg sci-fi classic that informs Proximity every step of the way. What we see is Carl Miesner (Don Scribner), on a secret mission in Alaska, being sucked up by a UFO. He’s been missing ever since. Remember Carl. He’ll figure prominently later.
Flash-forward to the present in California, where geeky young scientist Isaac Cypress (Ryan Masson) reports to his junior-level job at NASA’s Pasadena branch, and receives a mysterious signal from an office satellite. “E.T. phone home,” he jokes (another Spielberg shout-out!). Things get stranger when Isaac, on a hike in the hills, watches a meteor sweep across the sky. With a camera he keeps for a daily video diary, Isaac records the meteor crash and the appearance of an extra-terrestrial as ectomorphic and wide-eyed as he is. Three days after Isaac’s abduction, he is back on the ground with no memory of his experience except for what’s on his camera. The video quickly goes viral. Finding true believers is the hard part.
And the resistance to accepting the unknown is really what’s at the heart of Demeusy’s sincere but calamitously naive film. For a low-budget indie, Proximity is shot, designed, and edited with a style and sophistication any Hollywood epic would envy. Where the film drops the ball is in its screenplay, a grab bag of Spielberg, X-Files, and Men in Black that never finds a personality of its own. It’s fine that Isaac gravitates to other abductees like himself, notably Sara, played with uncutesy sweetness by Highdee Kuan. To gin up suspense, Sara and Isaac are kidnapped by the International Space Research Program, a shadowy government agency affiliated with the United Nations (huh?) and run by a rogue agent named Graves, acted to the hilt and beyond by Shaw Jones. Graves and his I.S.R.P. men in black leave the violent stuff to an army of cyborgs who look like Star Wars stormtroopers, or possibly refugees from a Daft Punk video. Demeusy hits his stride during these interrogations, set in blindingly white rooms that recall 1971’s THX 1138, an early effort from George Lucas.
These borrowed inspirations do the movie no favors, which never carves out its own point of view. Isaac and Sara basically become Luke and Leia when they link up with the film’s Han — a smartass hacker named Zed (Christian Prentice). Their mission? To seek out the missing Carl (Obi Wan?) in British Columbia by way of Costa Rica (don’t ask), and find a way for the peaceful E.T.’s to land on Earth without being zapped by rogue government droids. The clumsy outcome somehow involves Jesus and various philosophies about human and alien connection. It’ll be something when Demeusy finds a way to match his superior visual skills with a script that deserves them. Sadly, that day has not yet come.