November 8, 2012

Excision (2012)

Directed by Richard Bates Jr. Starring AnnaLynne McCord ("Pauline"), Traci Lords ("Phyllis"), Ariel Winter ("Grace"), and Roger Bart ("Bob"). Not Rated. Body Count: 2 people and a fetus.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Anchor Bay/Starz)
Running time: 01:21:12
Country: USA

EXCISION revolves around a dysfunctional white-collar family in suburbia. To paint a picture, we have the strict, God-fearing and borderline crazy mother (Phyllis), the irrelevant father (Bob), and the youngest daughter, Grace, who is probably the most normal of the bunch but suffers from the debilitating and life-threatening disease known as Cystic Fibrosis. And then we have Pauline, who's the main focus of the film. Her unkempt appearance is that of a feral woman who was domesticated, and she has a fascination with death and anything morbid. For example, her short term goal in the film is to lose her virginity while menstruating, and in general she also fantasizes about necrophilia and lots of blood.

With the characters out of the way, that brings us to the plot: there isn't one. EXCISION is a character-driven film that doesn't quite go anywhere until the very end, with most of the focus, again, on Pauline and how unusual yet fascinating she is. The film as a whole is like a mix of Todd Solondz and Eli Roth; a family drama that goes to some dark and disturbing places mixed with a coming-of-age story and lots of sickening gore and horrifying imagery. As far as how the gore plays a factor, most of it occurs in Pauline's fantasy sequences rather than in the context of the story. She doesn't quite have anyone she connects with on an emotional level, so she escapes to these dark places in her mind where she's glamorous and surrounded by the things that interest her, namely death and graphic sex. It doesn't take long before it becomes obvious that these fantasies are a visual representation to the viewer of a mental disorder that isn't really addressed.

Since most of EXCISION is about the character of Pauline, it's up to actress AnnaLynne McCord to carry the movie, and luckily she turns in a pretty solid and memorable performance. This role was a brave choice for McCord - a humanitarian who does a lot of charity work and normally plays characters that are the polar opposite of Pauline - but she ran with it and is very believable in her role. The people who worked on McCord's cosmetics really went out of their way to make her look as disgusting as possible and it worked. Acne, thick eyebrows, pale, and just plain dirty-looking. She's so unattractive in this that it's almost comedic. Not that being unattractive is funny or anything, but her appearance is so extreme that you can't help but find some humor in it. In any event, McCord's transformation for the role is admirable.

There's some noteworthy stunt casting in EXCISION. In general, unless it's some sort of ensemble piece or a film with a solid script and directed by someone who knows how to get good performances out of any actor, the familiar faces can take away from a movie and turn it into a spectacle. It also reeks of desperation from the filmmakers' part in some cases. In EXCISION we have Malcom McDowell as one of Pauline's teachers and Ray Wise as her principal. There's also some ironic casting with Traci Lords as Pauline's mother and John Waters as a priest. They're all fine and people I admire to an extent, but, again, it goes back to what I said about a film becoming a spectacle. John Waters gets a pass, though, just because he's John Waters and he should be in everything. Something else that I found to be a disappointment was the relationship between Pauline and her mother. It's not entirely believable, and I never got the feeling that they've been a family for a long time. Instead, it feels like the first time they're on screen at the same time is the first time they've been together, like Pauline was adopted and just thrown into this weird situation. Perhaps it's me being nit-picky or missing the point of the movie, but for a film in which "family" is a main focus, the family unit in EXCISION was just a bit too awkward and campy for the seriousness of the film's later moments to fully resonate.

Speaking of family, one thing I did like was how Grace, and her living with Cystic Fibrosis, was portrayed. It never came across to me as exploitative, and Grace added a much needed level of humanity to the film. Also, when it's all said and done, Grace is probably the most important person in the movie for reasons that I needn't necessarily get into. I can't say much else about the movie itself other than it takes a pretty shocking turn towards the end and that there are a lot of gross-out moments throughout. The last five minutes of EXCISION are jaw-dropping and will hit you like a sledgehammer. Not the most well-paced or re-watchable movie, but it's a solid transgressive film that does what it sets out to do, and it has some of the best horror imagery that I've seen in quite some time.

Score: 7.5


  1. I haven't even heard of this film (I don't think-- if I did, I forgot about it). But your review make me wanna see it.
    Your comments about stunt casting were really interesting. I recently saw FATHER'S DAY, put out by Troma and made by the Canadian geek/filmmaking collective Astron-6 (their first feature film).
    Lloyd Kaufman plays a small role in this film, essentially an extended cameo. I was first disappointed by his appearance, because of the few times I've seen Kaufman and his cameos in films, they all seem very stunt-like (and so, dismissive to there rest of the film). But I ultimately liked his casting as well as his performance and it seemed fitting once the film was done. but, I'm pretty sure this one cameo was a rare exception to the general rule of Kaufman appearances.

    Nice job!

    1. Thanks, Terry! Sometimes the "stunt casting" works for me and sometimes it doesn't. It works in Tarantino movies because he gets good performances out of his actors, but with EXCISION and other indie horror movies, it just reeks of desperation and directors wanting to work with people they admire. Nothing wrong with that, but for me I just can't take a movie as seriously as I probably should if a bunch of familiar faces turn up and are just sort of "there". As far as Kaufman, I do enjoy his cameos because they're usually just that: cameos. Kaufman turning up in movies is kinda like the cinematic equivalent of Where's Waldo, because in some cases his appearances are so quick that you may not notice him.

    2. The second half of this film really disappointed me as it suffers from being caught up in the spectacle of it all. It really is the sort of which seems to really divide folks opinions.

      Still while it might seem like a random series of increasingly disgusting and shocking events, it was a couple of days after seeing the film, that it dawned on me that what we are witnessing here is the birth of a psycho only shot from the psycho’s perspective, something only furthered by the slowly graduating between the levels of psycho behaviour, as Pauline moves from fantasies to dissecting dead animals to ultimately moving onto human dissection, all under the guise of her desire to be a surgeon. Further evidence of this theory for myself was seen in her ever growing desire to break social norms, as her world view twists to suit her personal outlook such as her blasé reaction to having her period while clumsily seducing her high school crush Adam (Sumpter) with the prospect of easy sex. Sadly director Bates chooses for some reason to not give us a big insight into why Pauline does what she does and instead gives us an ending which seems more sudden than conclusive.

  2. That's a good and fair review of the film, Elwood. When I reviewed this, I think I was still caught up in the shock of the ending. The more I think about it and the more I read/listen to other peoples' reviews who were sort of let down by the film, my opinions of it start to lessen a little. At the same time, it's still a well-made and refreshing film and I stand by my score.