Various websites attempt to classify Richard Bates, Jr.’s, 2012 “Excision” as horror, drama, psychological thriller, or black comedy, but, while the film contains elements of each, in the end, it’s none. The film’s appeal derives much from the fact that it can’t be pigeonholed.
Inexplicable how Bates managed, for his first feature, to secure an all-star cast for this incredibly offbeat work about the delusional Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord), who gets off on blood and death. Because that’s what this movie is about. And her fantasized bloodbaths comprise a good chunk of the film’s never-a-dull-moment 81-minute run-time.
McCord, known as a sexy vixen from her roles on “Nip/Tuck” and “90210,” stars as the weird, boyish, no-makeup-wearing, zit-faced teen, whose outward strangeness among the popular crowd at her high school only just barely scrapes the surface of her incredibly demented thoughts. While Pauline says she hates her uptight mother (Traci Lords), she clearly longs for her approval, for the kind of love Mom gives little sister Grace (Ariel Winter). Stereotypically suburban and controlling, Mom insists Pauline, clearly NOT the type, participate in Cotillion. As the film progresses, even iron-willed Mom admits defeat.
While a film that casts an ex-porn-star-turned-actress as a priggish Mom and openly gay trash film director John Waters as, believe it or not, a priest, can’t be taken too seriously, the film nonetheless tackles very serious subject matter. Its initial screening at Sundance in January and DVD release in October of 2012 pre-date December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which brought the U.S. mental health crisis to the fore. As did the real-life tragedy that unfolded, this film rallies for exigency and appropriate treatment for at-risk people before situations escalate.
While the general public may not know if the Sandy Hook shooter asked for help, Pauline in “Excision” does, repeatedly. While her father (Roger Bart) generally lets Mom make the decisions, he loves his family, and Pauline loves her sister. Mom, clearly unwilling to admit the magnitude of her daughter’s mental deterioration, takes Pauline to the ineffectual parish priest (Waters) for counseling. Though twisted, Pauline is a smart girl who knows what she wants – real psychiatric help from a man of science, because, as she tells the priest, science and religion don’t mix.
Despite her protestations that she doesn’t believe in God, in between her blood-soaked fantasies exist artfully filmed prayer-sessions, among the most brilliant gems in the film, which clue the audience in on Pauline’s condition, even as her family remains oblivious. Mom says they can’t afford a real psychiatrist, and although the family seems comfortable, they likely already have high medical bills because Grace has cystic fibrosis. Grace’s illness, medical in nature and therefore measurable, takes precedence over her sister’s more illusive mental health issues.
In addition to an excellent main cast, the film includes appearances by Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”), Matthew Gray Gubler (“Criminal Minds”), Ray Wise (“Twin Peaks”) and Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin (“Children of a Lesser God”).
“Excision” doesn’t play out like a horror film and surely will not please genre fans expecting a slasher. At the same time, the amount of blood and gore on-screen may off-put people who aren’t horror fans. But those who can appreciate something different, ugly, which, instead of concluding with traditional exposition, abruptly ends at film’s climax, may find “Excision” just what the doctor ordered. The smart screenwriting (by Bates), top-notch acting, especially McCord, and interesting cinematographic choices will likely induce cringing punctuated with laughter, and “Excision” makes Bates definitely a director to watch.
Note: The film’s trailer intentionally not included with a strong recommendation that it not be viewed prior to watching the film. For mature audiences only.