Directed by Richard Bates, Jr.
Distributed by Monster Pictures
Sometimes, referring to someone as “eccentric”, “strange” or just plain “weird” simply isn’t enough to convey the sheer level of dysfunction exhibited by their behaviour. Case in point right here is Excision‘s Pauline (McCord), a terminally awkward teenager obsessed with all aspects of becoming a professional surgeon. While by day she seemingly does her utmost to alienate herself from the standard societal structure of high school, by night she indulges in overtly stylistic dreamscapes that revel in surgical carnage, dismemberment and bloodshed.
Uncomfortably navigating her way through each day surrounded by her overstressed mother (Lords), emasculated father (Bart) and Cystic Fibrosis-stricken younger sister (Winter), Pauline’s behaviour becomes increasingly more concerning to not only her own family, but her various schoolteachers and counsellors (a few perfectly placed cameos by the legendary John Waters, Malcolm McDowell and Ray Wise) as events begin to gain momentum towards an inevitably tragic finale.
The first thing about Excision to hit you is just how excellent the film looks. Crisp visuals abound, with plenty of artistic slant (Pauline’s occasional praying sequences seeing her enveloped completely in darkness except for head, arms and hands, for example) — and while the primary colour-laden dream sequences do tend to smack of music video-esque masturbatory excess at times, their visual punch can’t be ignored. The film’s production design is awash with repugnance, aiming to have the audience recoil at nearly every opportunity whether it be at Pauline’s greasy, blemished, lip-licking appearance in real life or the various gory and disturbing happenings occurring behind her eyes.
But therein also lies the problem: Pauline is a nut; a complete and utter out-there, space cadet, bona fide nut — and it’s rare that she ever exhibits any other qualities. Whether she’s sniffing her bloody tampons, matter-of-factly requesting that a certain acquaintance aid her in losing her virginity or deliberately spreading herpes to unsuspecting pre-teens, her behaviour is frequently uncomfortably hilarious but critically lacking in the generation of audience empathy. Nearly every confrontation or social collision that she suffers is of her own making, often due to a display of sheer aggression or a conscious decision to turn away from the norm. Pauline never feels genuinely misunderstood as much as she does a thoroughly misguided narcissist destined for very, very bad things. In only a couple of scenes does the script allow something more to break through, one of which being the film’s devastating final shot, but it isn’t enough to prevent many viewers being understandably turned off by Excision‘s lack of any truly identifiable protagonist.
That isn’t to say that the performances here aren’t any good. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; they’re excellent through and through. AnnaLynne McCord takes to the role of Pauline like a duck to water, truly having fun with something obviously far beyond her usual repertoire, and her efforts really do make the subtle difference that will keep audiences watching even through her character’s most needlessly repugnant activities. Of special note is also Traci Lords’ portrayal of Pauline’s mother, Phyllis – an earnest and grounded performance of a frustrated homemaker perched on the edge of reason. Roger Bart doesn’t get a whole lot to do apart from the slightly comedic everyman shtick he’s often given, but he takes it in his stride. Of the core cast, finally, we have the young Ariel Winter as Grace, the sickly younger sister. This young lady will go far indeed — ruling the heart of the film with a role lacking half of the screen time of the main subject, Winter injects a sympathetic emotive core to every scene in which she appears. Even the cameo-givers refuse to phone it in, with John Waters especially giving some of the most comedic worried facial expressions when faced with Pauline’s demented outlooks on life.
All things considered, Excision‘s excellent visual construction and exemplary performances only serve to bolster the disappointment that the inaccessibility of its story regularly induces. Even if the tragedy that tops it all off does manage to hit home, largely due to the efforts of the actors involved, it still feels somewhat hollow. Bates has crafted a thoroughly cringe-inducing, disturbing piece of work with Excision, yet many will find themselves ultimately yearning for something that prompts more consideration when all is said and done.
Doing the excellent cinematography justice is Monster Pictures’ UK Blu-ray release of Excision, which looks astounding right from the title sequence to the end. The image is rock solid, with Bates’ garishly-coloured dream sequences being a definite highlight. In terms of special features, we get a trailer and a feature length commentary with lead actress McCord and director Bates. It’s an easy listen, with next to no downtime save for moments during the film that they wish to highlight, and finds itself filled with a steady stream of filmmaking titbits and personal anecdotes, all of which see that the time flies by before you know it. Good stuff, but a full gamut of interviews with the other players could have been expected for such a performance-dedicated film and so feels strikingly absent.
3 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5