Proximity shows that writer and director Eric Demeusy has potential, even if the finished product does not quite reach its lofty aspirations.
It’s difficult to write fresh and original alien abduction stories. Even more so when you lack the funding of a major Hollywood picture. In his feature length debut, however, Eric Demeusy tried to give us a new spin on the Alien abduction story, while still drawing clear influence from big names in sci-fi like X-Files and Stranger Things. The result is Proximity, a film with a lot of good ideas, but that struggles to find the best version of itself.
Proximity follows Isaac (Ryan Massan), a NASA employee who is abducted by aliens. After he is returned to Earth a few days later, he tries to convince the world that he was abducted by aliens, which eventually takes him on a journey for answers. The plot and pacing are a little all over the place, as the first and second halves of the film feel like two very different movies (spoilers ahead). In the first half, it’s set up like a slow burn, as Isaac’s claims and video evidence spark a media frenzy, as he encounters both support of his claims, and sharp dismissal as someone seeking attention. He is approached by reporters and ends up appearing on a talk show, yet he is unhappy with the attention because he feels no one is taking him seriously. The first half of the film sets itself up to be an investigative thriller, centered around a young man’s desperate search for answers.
This, however, is abandoned midway through the film in exchange for a more conventional hero’s journey arc for the story, that involves Isaac getting captured by a government agency, and ends up traveling to distant corners of the globe. There are named characters set up in the first half never seen in the second half, and the actual supporting cast of main characters are not introduced until midway through the film. It feels like you’re watching two different movies spliced together, and the dissonance is jarring.
There are a lot of good ideas at play here: The two halves definitely had the potential to be compelling films on their own. But Proximity’s biggest issue is that it tries to do too much. If Demeusy had committed to the tonal and narrative themes of either the first first or second half, he would have had a much stronger whole. I would be interested in seeing a thriller where a young man desperately tries to convince the world he was abducted by aliens, but struggles to find people who believe him. I would also be interested in seeing an adventure film about a ragtag team of plucky young people traveling the world to escape from a shady government agency and their robot operatives. Putting them both together and abruptly transitioning from one to the other, though, was ultimately to the film’s detriment.
One thing Proximity has in its favor are its visuals: while this is Demeusy’s feature length directorial debut, he is mostly known for his work in special effects, working on big-name projects such as Game of Thrones, TRON: Legacy, and Stranger Things, the latter earning him an Emmy. His talent for visual effects shines through in Proximity, as the visuals, by and large, are compelling and effective for the narrative. Sequences of floating dishware hint at Isaac developing powers as a result from his encounter, to do an excellent job of cultivating tension, and foreshadowing future events.
While Proximity’s cast does an excellent job with what they are given, the dialogue could have used perhaps one more pass through the writers’ room. While I did not find anything to be offensive or cringe-inducing, there were a few occasions when characters would spout exposition at the audience, or when characters would contradict themselves. There is also a scene where Isaac pulls out old-timey paintings and discusses how they have UFOs in them, thus proving that aliens exist, and it feels an awful lot like I’m watching a conspiracy theorist on YouTube.
I can acknowledge that, as a critic, I risk nothing in writing a review, whereas Demeusy clearly put a lot of work and a lot of heart into Proximity. And it definitely shows: It never feels like a cynical cash-grab, but as an earnest attempt to make something great. I stand by my assertion that there are good ideas in there, and I think most of its problems would have been solved with additional revisions in the writing stage. I hope Demeusy continues to make movies: he has a lot of potential, even if I don’t think the pieces came together perfectly in this case.