Excision Review

Excision18-year-old Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is a very disturbed teenager, even more so than the average teenager. She even quips at one point though, “I don’t know of a teenager who doesn’t profile as a socio-path…”. Pauline is exactly the kind of child her mother, played with pointed prudishness by Traci Lords, doesn’t want. When presented with this problem child, who often comes across as arrogant and rude, Phyllis (Lords) despairs and in later scenes it becomes clear that she is at the point of wishing she had never had her.

Director Richard Bates Jr.’s film brings to mind modern alt-horror classics such as Lucky McKee’s spectacular May, especially in his choice to explore the experiences of a disturbed but sympathetic female lead character. In focusing on an adolescent lead Bates also heavily taps into the new experiences and concerns with finding oneself that generally accompanies ones teenage years. Pauline is treated very much as an outsider, by her mother but also by pretty much everyone around her, including a priest who is supposed to be helping her (played by Lords’ friend and prior director John Waters), her teacher and her peers, and this has a profound effect on how she interacts with the world. As an outsider she is deprived of affection and her desire for this becomes increasingly crucial as the story develops.

Bates Jr. does an excellent job of exploring these adolescent issues, of being an outsider, seeking affection and affirmation from those around you and, most importantly, deciding who you are. Pauline’s inner thoughts bleed out into the film through a number of dream sequences that both make explicit those thoughts that we might otherwise grapple to comprehend, and further extend our understanding of what kind of person Pauline really is. The dream sequences present a difficult line for Bates Jr. to tread, as these type of scenes so often falter in the hands of first-time filmmakers, but here Bates Jr. manages to inject a large amount of style without failing to convey what is required to the audience. Thanks in part, perhaps, to his dry run short film of the same name in 2008.

AnnaLynne McCord, who is probably best known for her long-running stint on the recent 90210 reboot, is excellent as Pauline, filling her performance with enough nuances amongst the more obvious snarling and quizzical head tilts to really convince an audience of the complexity and depth of the character. It is in the empathy that one has with Pauline that the heart and strength of the film lies, ensuring that the ending, which is the ultimate attempt from her character to define herself and convince those around her of her strength and compassion, is emotionally effective and crushingly bleak.

With a short but efficient running time of eighty-one minutes Bates Jr. manages to fill Excision with a sense of dread that is highly potent and an almost wicked approach to escalation which leaves you almost holding your breath as the film reaches its conclusion. Destined to be regarded as something of cult curio and perhaps even relegated to simply being a half-remembered shocker, Excision is too thematically rich to be dismissed so easily and deserves serious consideration.