Eric Demeusy won an Emmy for designing Stranger Things’ opening titles, so it’s not too surprising that his new sci-fi flick has a sleek retro style. Sadly, the first-time writer-director’s impressive visuals aren’t matched by his screenplay, which frequently recalls a second-rate episode of The X-Files. At one point, a lead character summarises a life-changing series of alien abductions in the most mundane way imaginable. “It’s so strange that this happened to us,” she sighs. “It feels like a dream.”
Proximity gets itself in a mess from the start. Its glistening synthy soundtrack instantly suggests the ’80s, but the story seems to take place in a vague, not-so-distant past where people have Wi-Fi but no camera-phones. So when gawky computer scientist Isaac (Ryan Masson) heads off for a hike somewhere outside of LA, he brings a bulky camcorder so he can document his experience for a “video diary”. While he’s up in the hills, Isaac comes eye-to-eye with a silent extra-terrestrial, and just about manages to point his recorder at the creepy creature before he’s seemingly abducted.
After he’s returned to earth several days later with no memory of anything else that happened, he posts his alien footage online and becomes a reluctant media sensation. A scene in which shy Isaac clams up when questioned by a sceptical TV reporter is well acted by Masson, but it soon becomes clear that Demuesy has no interest in satirising the way mainstream media can take advantage of innocents. Instead he takes Proximity down a familiar rabbit hole where Isaac and Sara (Highdee Kuan), a sympathetic fellow alien abductee he’s met online, are kidnapped by a shadowy government agency.
Proximity is stuffed with deeply improbable scenes, but perhaps the least convincing is when Isaac and Sara manage to escape from the agency’s secret bunker in Costa Rica, setting up a beautifully shot but plot hole-laden game of cat-and-mouse. Eventually, they end up at a cabin in the woods in remote western Canada with a self-taught tech expert (Don Scribner) who’s been trying to communicate with aliens ever since he was abducted back in 1979. But just as Demeusy manages to build some tension with sinister Agent Graves (Shaw Jones) closing in, he inexplicably chucks in a cameo from Jesus – yes, Jesus Christ.
It goes without saying that Proximity never approaches the haunting brilliance of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the alien abduction classic it’s clearly influenced by. But as ropey sci-fi films go, this one definitely looks pretty – even Masson’s amazing wide eyes look matched to the protruding peepers of Demeusy’s alien creatures. One for genre nuts, sure, but there’s little here for the casual viewer to get excited about.
- Director: Eric Demeusy
- Starring: Ryan Masson, Highdee Kuan, Don Scribner
- Released: May 18 (VOD)