Well now, that was an awful lot to process in one sitting. Excision managed to question religion, sexual desires, personality disorders, family dynamics, menstruation – and did so soaked in enough blood to fill a small pool. Throw in dream sequences that look like they were shot by an experimental new modern artist trying some ambitious hyper-sexuality driven horror-nurse themed exposition, plus some more blood of course, and you’ve got one of the more bewildering yet curiously intriguing titles I’ve seen this year. But if you needed any other indications about what you might be walking into, just know John Waters and Traci Lords are part of the cast. Yeah, you bet things are going to get freaky.
Excision follows a Southern family which features a defeated and crushed husband Bob (Roger Bart), a sick daughter with cystic fibrosis named Grace (Ariel Winter), another daughter who is a social outcast and aspiring surgeon named Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord), and a controlling mother who wants to create the perfect family according to her own wishes and no one else’s, Phyllis (Traci Lords). Now you would think Traci Lords’ demanding mother character would be the source of all conflict, and while she is a driving factor, Pauline herself is the focus here, exploiting her sick fantasies and warped thinking instead of just making this a case of a rebel daughter fighting her prim and proper mother.
AnnaLynne McCord (90210) really stole the show here, transforming into the frumpy and disturbing character Pauline, which isn’t easy. She had to always be slouching and contorting her body in weird ways to show how different Pauline was from everyone else, her actions were always exaggerated and again more manic than a “normal person’s,” and she had to endure some pretty strange scenes involving very gory medical procedures and naked women. Climbing into the mindset of a girl as troubled as Pauline is no easy feat, but McCord transformed into the homely lesbian looking teenager with ease.
You won’t recognize the actress one bit, and some of her sick sexual fantasies are stomach-churnningly disturbing, yet she brings a sense of comedy to Pauline too. From the way she deals with her pushy mother to the lengths Pauline is willing to go for he sister Grace, McCord’s character analyzes how the best of intentions can turn destructive if not in the right mindset, but also where such utter disregard stems from in the first place. Oh yeah, in between all her red-smattered dreaming and self-experimenting, she also questions religion through monologue centric prayer scenes, analyzing the bible and her interpretation of blind faith and forgiveness, while torturing Reverend William (John Waters) in one on one psychiatric sessions, just to drive home how the young girl’s skewed perception on the world drives her life. There’s so much complexity surrounding Pauline, it’s hard to focus on anyone else, nor do you have to. Bravo, AnnaLynne McCord.
Not to undermine any other performances, because Traci Lords was really good at being bad. Her mother character was so magnificently hard to like, which is what the character of Phyllis calls for. It’s sad, but you can’t help believing there are these self-obsessed mothers who want to be part of the stereotypical “perfect family,” throwing other member’s desires aside for classes that teach participants how to be a proper lady and squashing individualism. There are moments I downright hate Phyllis, and Bob’s complacent attitude for that matter, wanting to jump through the screen and give Lords’ character a piece of my mind. Then again, Pauline pushes her mother every chance she can at this point, dealing with Phyllis for 18 years of her life already, so can you fault the girl for finally lashing out? It’s a hard mother/daughter dynamic to stomach, but necessary in breaking down Pauline.
Now, while Excision is momentarily invading with upsetting visuals, no doubt pushing people past their own moral boundaries, I didn’t find any true horror. A dark comedy, yes. A thriller? Sure, I’ll bite. A drama even, yes. But horror? Let’s try and look.
I was never ghastly afraid of Pauline, more inquisitive and sympathetic towards her. Pauline wasn’t some psycho killer and Phyllis wasn’t an evil woman, these were just two characters caught up in their own thinking, acting on only personal will. The scenes of shock value gore and vibrant amounts of blood were used as visual helpers and plate setters, not as in Hostel where the torture was the horror. While I don’t see this as a bad thing, I do just want viewers to enter with the correct mindset, not expecting Pauline to morph into some slasher chick who takes all her teen angst out against helpless victims at school and home.
I guess you can argue the horror exists in both Pauline and Phyllis’ somewhat rational thought process which turns them into the people they are, putting stock into religious beliefs and personal want while having the capacity to have a conscious stream of mental activity that keeps themselves in the right. In some ways, having a “sane” mind convince itself whatever actions the person is about to carry out are right while using intelligent comprehension could be the most terrifying thing of all though, in which case I would agree 100% there definitely is something to fear about Excision. But then we have to ground ourselves with reality, and if there really could be parental figures so out of touch and desensitized with human emotion to let such actions truly be carried out. In that sense, Excision becomes just a film, and again any elements of horror are lost, but it all depends on what you believe.
I have to admit, I wasn’t fully sold on Excision throughout watching until the final scene kicked in. I knew where Pauline was headed, but I wasn’t ready for that last scene of gut-wrenching emotion from all characters involved. It’s no spoiler, but Traci Lords and AnnaLynne McCord trade screams while in a very emotionally draining event, and the camera cuts to black on Lords herself letting out a scream so full of her in the moment reaction, all I could hear was the scream piercing my psyche while the credits rolled. I never watch the credits usually, unless I hear there’s some hidden scene at the end, but I couldn’t even move while Excision rolled name after name, paralyzed by that scream. Watching both character breaking down in front of our eyes was a hard pill to swallow, but was also the first “real” moment amongst each character that opened their eyes.
It’s amazing what the insanely psychotic can do, and mentally lost souls certainly make perfect killers to fear, but it’s the intelligent loners, the half lost souls who can still grip reality and perceive certain events, that just may be the ones to fear most. The ones who act on impulses that may be fueled by intentions of only good, but the reality of their beliefs and rationalizations are lost in their god-like faith in themselves, too caught up to see the true horrors of what they are doing. That is what Excision boils down to, and that is where you’ll find the most terror amongst Pauline. It requires thought and analysis over “Oh look at her, she has a knife and is killing people” type horror delivery, but it’s most certainly there in parts if you’re opened to it.
Excision isn’t for the weak of heart or those hoping for a simple-minded watch, but can most certainly be a rewarding endeavor for any viewer needing a good character piece full of personalities worth a good psycho-analysis. Director Richard Bates Jr. pushes the boundaries of realism and understanding in forcing his assessment of hot button issues on audience members through images that certainly have the ability to offend, and poses questions about ourselves we certainly may not want to know the answer to. It’s a family drama, psychological thriller, dark comedy, and culture analyzing effort which was done better by other films no doubt, but still stands as successful filmmaking in its own right.
If anything, watch Excision for AnnaLynne McCord’s brilliant performance as Pauline, because that character work alone deserves to be spread. Whether or not all the other pieces fall in place, that’s going to differ for everybody, but there sure isn’t harm in finding out, no?