(This review was originally published on October 14, 2012 at Reel Film News)
Opening night of the Spooky Movie Horror Film Festival kicked off with “Excision”, Richard Bates Jr’s expansion of his own 2008 short film, a morbid twist on the plight of an outcast teenage girl (to say the least) who is misunderstood on just about every level. AnnaLynne McCord plays Pauline, a bizarre, frumpy highschool senior who copes with the pitfalls of adolescence with increasingly powerful, bloody and sexual delusions of grandeur. Her mother (Traci Lords) is a religious fanatic who forces Pauline, an atheist, to see their priest (John Waters, sporting his trademark pencil-thin stache) for weekly ‘counseling’ sessions because she says they can’t afford a psychiatrist. Let’s just say it’s not very pleasant around the dinner table.
Excision reaches beyond the scope of other coming-of-age horror flicks like “Carrie”, “May” and “Ginger Snaps”, though it incorporates facets of all three into what might be considered more of a psychological character study, tweaking the trappings of the sub-genre as well as any formula that might have inspired it. Pauline’s cauldron of angst is portrayed with creepy restraint; she rebels in ways that will make you both cringe and laugh (I’ll refrain from describing what I have in mind). Her behavior only seems to be tempered by her sister (a noteworthy performance by Ariel Winter of “Modern Family”), who despite health issues seems the only stable one of the bunch.
Where Bates excels, at least from an aesthetic standpoint, is the contrast he creates between Pauline’s dark reality, where apprehension and disdain rule her life at school and at home, and the sterile look of her dream world, where she perceives herself as Messiah-like. In this brightly lit, sort of parallel conscience, blood is an aphrodisiac. More troubling is that in real life, she’s obsessed with becoming a surgeon, though she doesn’t appear to be making any academic strides toward that. Apparently she’s been reading up on her own time. Not a good combination.
The film has an impressive and eclectic cast, including Ray Wise (“Jeepers Creepers 2”) as the school’s cartoonishly right-wing principle and Malcolm McDowell as a smug teacher. McCord is almost unrecognizable as Pauline if compared to her polished California girl look in “90210” (and to me, just as impressive as Charlize Theron’s transformation for “Monster”). Her brow is constantly furrowed, and she feigns a slight “Sling Blade”-esque underbite, portraying an individual who is complex, unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
From a writing standpoint, Bates addresses typical teen angst issues, as well as religion and politics, with darker-than-dark humor. His means of establishing the cruelty and narrow-mindedness in Pauline’s social microcosm result in both a commentary that makes “Heathers” look like “Clueless” and an ending that will make you reassess your behavior toward reclusive youngsters. The requisite topics and stereotypes are fodder for an oddly intelligent, disturbing observation of a society that doesn’t listen or care to understand; Bates will have you constantly wondering when (and if) the tables will turn.
“Excision” is available October 16th on DVD and Blu-ray.