Movie Review: “Excision” – A Film That Cuts Deep

Written by Angela May 07, 2014

Ex1 The motif of the troubled adolescent girl has become as tired and cliche as the phrase “I’ll be right back” being used to signal impending doom. Nevertheless, the archetype has seen an interesting resurgence in a number of recent indie-horror releases (“The Woman”, “We Are What We Are”, “Jug Head”, “The Loved Ones”–to name a few). Of all these titles, Richard Bates’ “Excision” is the most provocatively disturbed. While the film assuredly stands out solely due to its extreme sexually centered gore, its bizarre cast of characters ultimately steals the show.

Pauline (Anna Lynne McCord) is dealing with a bit more than the average white suburbanite high-schooler. Faced with her beloved younger sister’s (Ariel Winter) cystic fibrosis, Pauline’s own severe mental collapse goes grossly overlooked by her image-conscious parents. As hopelessness and resentment drives a wedge between Pauline and her mother (Traci Lords), her shockingly deviant sexual fantasies become all the more enmeshed with reality. In only a matter of time Pauline is completely enveloped by both her ambition to be a surgeon and her vivid urges to combine sex with lots and lots of blood. Ex2

McDowell, Wise and Waters—oh my!

The tone of “Excision” is tricky to pin down, as it swings indiscriminately from black teen comedy to dark family drama, resting briefly onto a surreal heavy-metal music video before starting the cycle all over again. Occasionally all this shifting resembles the feeling of speedily flipping through television channels, but in the midst of the chaos is a stellar cast to hold things together. Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise and John Waters make small but memorable appearances, while Lords’ portrayal of a well-meaning yet overbearing mother with unresolved issues of her own is aggravatingly realistic. Her immense strain to maintain outer composure in spite of her inward turmoil is delightfully palpable in every scene she’s in; I quite enjoyed watching her jaw clench with painful self-restraint. As an aside, Traci Lords has one of the more interesting biographies I’ve read on any current actress. If you haven’t had a chance to read up on her, I suggest you do, as she’s something of a contemporary maverick worth taking note. ex3

“Let’s face it—you gave me hormones.”

Pleased as I am with the supporting actors, nothing tops McCord’s depiction of a very, very fucked up teenage girl. Pauline’s used-tampon-sniffing antics and at-home animal autopsies don’t even begin to cover the disgusting territory she eagerly covers, while numerous peeks into her twisted fantasy world reveal grotesque material more likely found in the New French Extremity movie than in your typical censor-conscious American feature. But oh, how she pulls at the heartstrings, both figuratively and literally, in spite of her morbid behavioral tics. ex5

“I refuse to have you indulge in my psycho-sexual fantasies.”

For all her poor hygiene and gross sexual desires, there’s something uncomfortably understandable about Pauline’s anger and awkwardness. Because no one heeds her many calls for help, she rapidly deteriorates into a monster worth sympathizing with rather than blaming. And when the mother-daughter dynamic is carried forward ever so beautifully thanks to Lords’s and McCord’s performances, matters are made even more complex as audiences are forced to admit that there really isn’t anywhere to place the blame at all; Pauline is merely an extension of her family’s very real and legitimate suffering as their seemingly perfect world falls apart. ex6

“I realize it’s not all about me anymore.”

The close exploration of family dysfunction takes “Excision” beyond the realm of sheer gore-fest and into a surprisingly emotional place, making some of the imagery’s necrophilic undertones bearable, but just nearly. As wonderful as the cast and characters make this film, at least once I found myself wondering if there was any meaningful point to all the vaginal blood and decapitations beyond that of pure marketable shock value. Needless to say, Pauline’s troubled penchant for death and sex is far from subtle, and I’m undecided as to whether or not its extremity is absolutely necessary in light of the story’s final outcome, which proves strong enough on its own. Either way, I highly recommend “Excision” to anyone with a soft heart and a strong stomach. You’ll be needing both to endure Pauline.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10


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About Angela

Angela McInnes is an English major and up-and-coming horror film aficionado. To her, happiness is a bottle of rum and a creature-feature on a Saturday night.

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