Occasionally a friend will thrust a film upon me to review on this site. Dependant on the friend it is either going to be something worthwhile (The Rocket, Uncle Boonmee) or something I probably shouldn’t have watched (Kung Fu Cannibals). Thankfully, Excision is in amongst the former. Click the jump thing below to find out why. Or just scroll down cos there’s a good chance you found this review by a random search and, are therefore, already in the review.
Excision is essentially one part Carrie, one part Dexter set in a twisted but less hip version of the world of Mean Girls. AnnaLynn McCord plays Pauline, a mentally troubled and possibly sociopathic teenage girl that has a strong obsession with blood and surgery. She frequently has dreams involving extreme images of dismemberment in surgical environments that wake her up in orgasmic pleasure. At school she is an outcast, something she’s quite happy with as she’d rather not be around the other girls anyway. Her mother is controlling and frequently belittles her. Her father is ineffective. Her little sister (Ariel Winter) is the only person she really cares for and she is afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis and may need a lung transplant soon.
You may note that that reads as a fine blueprint for a deranged murderer, and that’s kinda because it is. Excision is about a girl that’s clearly on the verge of doing something very bad indeed but doesn’t know how to ask for help, often doesn’t want help and has parents that are unable to recognise when she does make a cry for help. There’s a few elements that could be shared with many dark tragedies such as We Need To Talk About Kevin and Carrie. There’s certainly a few elements of Carrie’s religious and controlling mother in Pauline’s mother Phyllis (Traci Lords). There’s a little bit of young Dexter in there too. These sorts of stories aren’t new but it’s very rare that such a story is focused on a female lead with such a slow burn. Women are usually depicted as flat out snapping before committing heinous acts rather than gradually falling to that point. This helps make Excision that little bit more refreshing.
Director Richard Bates Jr brings a nice, mostly, unique look to the film’s direction by shooting almost every shot against a parallel wall. It’s not an uncommon approach. Wes Anderson does literally every single shot like this. Bates’ staging is different though. It’s like looking onto a stage performance. This leads to making you feel unsettled and make you feel like you’re sat just outside the scene looking in. In essence enhancing your role as an audience member. Making you be a ineffectual witness to Pauline’s delusions and downward spiral, able to see what is going wrong but unable to help in any way. Granted, this is something films have tried to do before, but your sympathy and understanding for Pauline is essential to getting the most out of this film. To be honest, for a large part of the film I thought she was kinda rad to be honest. Crazy, sure, but kinda badass at the same time.
The film’s script is nicely layered with subtlety and any humour to be found is so dark you could argue it’s probably not even there. Pauline’s interactions with her mother are especially well written and performed, depicting a decently real feeling portrayal of a troubled teen trying to get her mother’s approval. The film is littered with cameos from actors well known for pushing the boundaries such as John Waters, Malcolm McDowell and Ray Wise. They all only appear for a short amount of time, clearly filming their scenes in what was likely one fast moving production day, and they all help add a little extra dynamism to the film’s off the beaten track story. There’s a constant feeling that Richard Bates was trying to make his dream film, pulling in the cast he wanted with the referential nods to the body horror of Cronenberg. As such Excision feels like a film that’s the best it could be.
AnnaLynn McCord is pretty spectacular in the lead role showing a side to her acting that you really didn’t see in, well, anything she’s ever been in. Seriously, look her up and tell me she’s played a similar character at any point. It’s kind of a shame that’s she’s often cast as either eye candy or a femme fatale. She’s clearly capable of something far more dark. Not that that means better than what she played before in shows like Nip/Tuck and 90210 but just that she’s flexing acting muscles women don’t often get to here. The rest of the cast are fine, especially Traci Lords. Ariel Winter is even quite charming in a young role here without resorting to being the cutesy child character.
I’m not going to call Excision a fun film. It really isn’t. I did enjoy it though. The dark humour, the complex characters and the tragic story all brought together a film that was just satisfying to watch. It’s disturbing film and very bloody in it’s dream imagery. It’s certainly not a horror though, as all the promo images seem to want you to believe it is. It’s a drama first and foremost. Whilst it can be a little heavy handed with some of it’s anti-religious views, Phyllis refuses to send Pauline to a psychiatrist and instead send her to the local priest who Pauline despises, it’s not an issue that’s presented as damning. Plus, Phyllis does gradually realise that she has to do something more to help Pauline and attempts to reach out further to a daughter that she does not understand at all.
Excision is a fine and twisted film though. The sort fans of films like Maniac, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and the like will enjoy. Not all stories need to be about a character achieving greatness, overcoming the odds and so forth. Some stories can be just plain horrible. Gut wrenchingly horrible. Some of those stories are the best. The kind that can stick with you. If anything Excision could maybe even help you realise when someone is crying out for help. Although hopefully they wouldn’t be as far gone as Pauline is. Also, hopefully, they won’t be so keen on dreaming about dismembering people or being dismembered themselves. Especially when they trigger orgasms. That could be troublesome. Excision isn’t really a film for people that don’t want to be challenged with the darker side of humanity. But, screw ’em. This film is a good one and AnnaLynn McCord is excellent in it.