Sometimes you really just want a film to do well. This was my initial feeling going into the sci-fi thriller, PROXIMITY. After I saw the trailer for the film, so slick and tension-filled with that score in the background, the bar had been sent. The expectations had been heightened. For the trailer to hook me in like that, I needed the final product to be just as inspiring. And, the fact that it really seemed to tap into that ever-so-popular ’80s era nostalgia that the latest sci-fi projects have been tapping into, I was 110% invested in the film. Unfortunately, despite the stellar visuals and consistently decent score, the film’s hodgepodge plot and mostly lackluster acting make it sink rather than soar.
The film follows Isaac (Ryan Masson), a young scientist working for NASA, who struggles with daily life, though it’s not entirely explained in the film. We’re introduced to something off when he receives a mysterious signal from space through one of the satellites at work. The mystery deepens when another signal is revealed to be bouncing back from Canada. At the suggestion of his therapist, he starts to record himself talking about the day. One day he is hiking and recording himself for his daily video when a meteor seemingly crashes not too far from him. Isaac sets out to see what exactly is going on but discovers way more than he bargained for in the form of aliens. Hoping to capture the encounter, he records them with his camera before being abducted. No one really seems to notice or care that he is missing and, when he reappears three days later, he struggles to find someone who will actually listen and believe in what he has experienced. Until he uploads his video online and attracts the attention of the wrong types of people…
From the beginning, I knew that I was right in thinking that PROXIMITY was going to really tap into that nostalgic factor so reminiscent of recent sci-fi oriented projects like Netflix’s “The Stranger Things“. While the film takes place during the modern time, between the styling of some of the characters’ clothes to the usage of record players and synth beats peppered throughout the score, it’s hard not to think that this could easily take place during the ’80s. This is a note that I didn’t necessarily mind. However, there is a difference between paying homage to classic sci-fi films and feeling like you’re watching a direct descendant of one of those films. To clarify, the styling of the film, the cinematography, and the like, felt very much pulled from the era of films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial., Tron, and Robocop. Between that and a fairly familiar storyline with some modern touches here and there, it didn’t feel new or exciting. And I think that’s where nostalgia tapping can really only go so far.
However, it is clear to me that the director and writer Eric Demeusy has a special place in his heart for that particular era of sci-fi. There’s care taken in the visuals that shows the potential in his vision. A stark white room where Isaac’s face-to-face with an old school monitor and flanked by potentially murderous cyborgs. A looming saucer above the trees as a poor unsuspecting man is beamed up. Rapid-fire visions of historical events before an almost angelic figure glows and floats above an unsuspecting throng of people. These visual images constructed by Demeusy are vivid and standout, revealing the skills that he’s cultivated in visual effects over the years working on shows like “Game of Thrones” and films like Tron Legacy but the potential in his vision to do more outside of the familiar.
Sometimes a film’s story can be saved by its core performers. Unfortunately, I can’t say this was the case with PROXIMITY, especially since the characters didn’t read as fully developed. Ryan Masson’s performance as Isaac was definitely mixed. With his lanky build and wide eyes, his mannerisms lend itself to the type of awkward, struggling person Isaac definitely is. However, in high-tension scenes where we should feel worried for the character, Masson’s Isaac reads as too calm. As if being abducted by aliens is almost something expected rather than outside of the norm. Moving on to Highdee Kuan’s Sarah, I wanted more from that character as well, but I have to put more blame on the written character development rather than the actor itself. As the film concluded, I felt that she had been written in more as the potential love interest/damsel-in-distress. While this decision would have been another throwback to the ’80s sci-fi films of yore, it’s 2020. We can do a little bit better in the character development area for the one major female character in the script.
There wasn’t much given to Shaw Jones to do outside of being unnecessarily angry. Seriously, you do not want his Agent Graves anywhere near a mediation scenario ever. Even when we discover the character’s motivation for his actions in the last twenty minutes of the film, it feels cheap and tacked on with no payoff. The one character that felt somewhat fleshed out was Christan Prentice‘s Zed. We immediately could pinpoint that he was the off-the-grid hacker character but, despite his reduced screentime, there was a presence and particular handling of the dialogue given (of which some was a little cringy) that made his character’s time onscreen enjoyable. I wish we had more time to spend with Don Scribner’s Carl, but what moments he had onscreen he made the most of.
Overall, PROXIMITY is a film that shows director Eric Demeusy’s potential, but the heavy reliance on ’80s nostalgia and traditional sci-fi plot points from that particular era of the genre create something more stale rather than exciting. And, while solid performances can uplift even the most paint-by-numbers script, the performances in this film could not assist in making the film more palatable for this particular sci-fi fan. However, there is promise in what Demeusy can deliver if the cinematography and visual effects are anything to go by. It’s just a matter of finessing the plot, focusing on building high-stakes tension in performances, and feeling comfortable stepping outside of the box.
PROXIMITY will be available on VOD on May 15, 2020.