(18) Running time: 81 minutes
Director: Richard Bates Jr
Writer: Richard Bates Jr
Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Every once in a while comes a horror film that takes the viewer on a bit of a nightmare journey, to places not often seen before, it delivers something new and exciting. Now, while the story of a troubled teenager finding herself is not exactly original, the way in which writer/director Richard Bates Jr presents his darkly delicious film, is. Excision is a surprise from its very first frame to its final moments of madness, and in-between you will find yourself taken on a truly disturbing ride, and into the mind of the rather unhinged Pauline (McCord). All I will say at this point is prepare yourself!
Richard Bates Jr makes his feature film directorial debut based on his own short story, and on the strength of this, we will be hearing a lot more from this man in the future. Excision is a sort of coming of age sick and twisted drama about one girls refusal to fit in, and has some gorgeous horror moments by way of Pauline’s perverted dreams. The film opens with Pauline sat with a striking blue background staring at another version of herself, only this other version is bleeding from the mouth. It would appear that Pauline is getting some sort of sexual thrill from seeing herself like it, and when her other self coughs blood all over her, she smiles…
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Pauline who lives at home with her overpowering Mother, spineless Father and a very sick sister. The Mother Phyliss is magnificently played by a still incredibly attractive Traci Lords: she is desperate to have a family who can be seen as upperclass, and forces etiquette and rules on the household as if her life depended on it. It is at times embarrassing to watch, at other times hilarious. The Father Bob (Bart) just wants a quiet life, and tries not to get too involved with family disputes and tends to say the wrong thing which ends up with him sleeping on the couch. In one scene he dares to begin the conversation with “well, your Mother..” and then said Mother gives him Hell for not standing by her side. Then there is younger sister Grace (Winter), suffering from Cystic Fibrosis, she is Pauline’s closest friend, and this leads to some bizarre games (like Pauline drawing a chalk outline around her sister as if she was already dead) and even stranger encounters (like when Grace sticks up for her sister against the neighbouring girl who lives to play jump rope).
Now, it is Pauline herself who is the centre of attention here, and McCord gives a truly astonishing performance as the troubled teen unable to fit in. The really unsettling realisation is that she doesn’t want to fit in at school at all, and even embraces the fact that she is ‘different’. She says the wrong thing in class “can you contract STD’s from having sex with a dead person?”, and she is unable to make friends with the popular kids. Instead she insults and comes out with bizarre comebacks like “are you done, I need to take a shit” as one of the popular girls warns her to stay away from her boyfriend. Pauline doesn’t want to be liked, she just wants to be a surgeon and have some sort of meaning in her life along the way. She often has sinister dreams, and these are the moments which will get inside your head and stay there. Pauline’s dreams are dark, sexual and increasingly violent as she goes through some strange form of sexual awakening. The way in which these dreams are presented on screen is superb, with striking colours and almost unwatchable scenes of violent sexual content or just plain wrong images. Blood is everywhere, as our naked bodies and Pauline looking a million miles away from the spotty teenager we see before us. This is her fantasy world, and it is seriously creepy, but makes for some terrific viewing.
Things become increasingly more difficult both at school and at home as Pauline desperately searches for something to make her feel alive. She forcefully throws herself on a popular lad for sex, she happily argues with her teacher, and later on begins to turn at home and stop listening to her Mother. As the film becomes more and more intense, director Bates manages to expertly blend horror with some ultra dark comedy. As Phyllis finds it harder and harder to control Pauline, she goes from ordering her daughter around to simply calling for her husband, and while you feel awkward doing so, you cannot help but laugh. Yet, Excision does take the viewer to places that will quickly take those laughs away. With the entire cast giving some incredible performances, and with a script perfectly written by Bates Jr, Excision is a dangerous look at just what might be going on in the mind of disturbed teenage girls, and it is not a pleasant place. The film brilliantly asks the question of just how a certain style of parenting can cause a youngster to fall off the rails, and it also brilliantly suggests that maybe some people are just born this way.
Excision is deep, intelligent and at times very disturbing. Yet, it will enlighten and amaze while really giving the viewer something to think about. How many of us have met a quiet shy person and just immediately labelled them as a bit weird. Maybe next time we should think twice about that, and actually try and talk to them, for they may actually have something to say, or someone to kill. Excision is something different, and something unexpected, and is constantly amazing.