Excision (2012)
By: Fin H. on December 13, 2012 | Comments
Monster Pictures | Region 0, NTSC | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 84 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Malcolm McDowell
Screenplay: Richard Bates Jr.
Country: USA
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It's been a great year for indie horror films, and this remarkable little gem bears more than a few thematic resemblances to the Soska sisters' sublime American Mary (because apparently darkly tragicomic character studies of young females with surgical fixations are like buses). Unlike Mary Mason, however, this protagonist can boast no particular flair for carrying out complex medical procedures. In fact, as her long-suffering dad notes, she'd have a hard time holding down a job at her local fast food joint. Also unlike Katherine Isabelle's character, the normally highly presentable AnnaLynne McCord (2008's Day of the Dead) has been ugged up to the nines to portray lank-haired, pizza-faced teen Pauline. It's not just a simple matter of gluing toilet brushes where her eyebrows should be, though: McCord is a revelation, imbuing Pauline with a painful inner ugliness which is beautifully articulated through every awkward motion and slack-jawed gaze.

The true horror in this film comes not from the shocking, blood-soaked images of body horror with which it is liberally peppered, but from an uneasy, slow-burning sense that something is genuinely not right with Pauline.

On the surface we are presented with a classic ugly duckling scenario: the other kids loathe Pauline, her high school teachers treat her with scathing contempt and even her parents find it hard to muster up some affection for her. Her only worthwhile relationship is the one she has with her angelic little sister, Grace (Modern Family's Ariel Winter), who is staunchly living with cystic fibrosis.

Writer/director Richard Bates Jr. does not let us off that lightly, though: Pauline is not just some plucky, misunderstood, "round peg in a square hole" outcast – there is something genuinely unsettling about her behaviour which makes it hard to entirely sympathise with her (think Travis Bickle rather than Donnie Darko).

Unlike, say, Sissy Spacek's Carrie, she does not come across as completely vulnerable and defenceless against the taunts of her peers – Pauline has a caustic tongue and intermittent flashes of superficial self-assurance that sometimes serve her well in the face of society's unrelenting scorn. Bates Jr. really puts the audience between a rock and a hard place over the course of the film; as bland, bitchy and vacuous as her classmates may be, Pauline's behaviour is such that it is hard not to see where they are coming from. Her mother is superbly played by former porn star Traci Lords as brittle, priggish and uptight (as though all those years in the adult film industry left her with something lodged permanently up her butt) but, monstrous as she seems, we can't help feeling tiny pangs of sympathy for her because this woman is clearly completely ill-equipped to cope with what she has spawned. When she describes Pauline's behaviour as "near-sociopathic" she is chillingly on the money, but in a scene where Pauline overhears her saying that her daughter is "impossible to love" the poor creature's wretched sobs in response to this are truly heart-rending.

Some great character actors were clearly drawn to this worthy project; expect to see Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) as Pauline's sneering teacher, Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) as the bemused principal and Roger Bart (Hostel: Part II) as her defeated doormat of a dad. Even John Waters shows up as a clergyman with the hopeless task of attempting to counsel Pauline (who is so far beyond his reach as to beggar belief).

Richard Bates Jr. has coated a time bomb of a film in a deceptive veneer of jet black comedy. For all its quirkiness, Excision makes a deadly serious point about ignoring cries for help and allowing the mentally ill to go untreated. Pauline's erratic actions scream out for the state of her mental health to be properly addressed and, by the time professional psychiatric help has been sought, it's too little too late: I can honestly say that the conclusion of this film was like being punched in the gut.

The movie is punctuated throughout with artfully surreal psycho-sexual fantasy sequences offering an unsettling glance into Pauline's fractured mind, but they always end with Pauline snapping back to reality, a dreamy leer tugging at her lips. As Excision reaches its climax we start to see the world according to the tortured Pauline's twisted logic, and realising in which direction her warped train of thought is heading is like watching a car crash unfold in agonising slow motion. Be warned – the profound and excruciating sadness of the ending may leave you reeling.
The subdued aesthetic of Pauline's everyday life looks fine, but it is in the jarringly visceral and surreal fantasy sequences that the vivid hues of Monster Pictures' 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfer really come to life. In Pauline's mind, an unnaturally bright palette of gory reds and stark black and white contrasts come into play and the effect is quite striking, with
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is fine throughout, particularly during the haunting, delicate acoustic songs on the soundtrack.
Extra Features
An enthusiastic commentary is provided by Bates Jr. and McCord, which is good because after watching the film you'll probably want to get a little bit of insight into the genesis of something this special and odd. Other than that, there's just the trailer.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A startlingly original and affecting film, leavened for the most part with black humour but packing a devastating emotional wallop at the end. This is a genuine achievement in indie horror cinema and a must-see for anyone starved for something a bit different and intelligent.

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