A surprise hit at the Sundance Film Festival and with fellow critic’s certificate of approval, I was looking forward to catching this body-horror comedy of sorts. The first feature from writer/director Richard Bates Jr, it’s a warped teen angst story, with a trashy, profoundly unsettling edge.
90210‘s AnnaLynne McCord puts in a brilliant, transformative performance as Pauline, a deranged teenager with a fetish for surgical procedures and period blood. Outcasted at school, she’s no bag of joy at home either, constantly at throats with her discerning, prudish mother Phyllis (played with great sternness by former porno star Traci Lords). Episodically, we see Pauline become disillusioned with the world, only finding solace in her sadistic fantasies.
Based on a far superior short film from 2008, Bates struggles to fill the meagre 81 minutes running time with any substantial storyline. But what he lacks in narrative drive he makes up for in lurid, juxtapositional aestheticism. Photographed by the appropriate named cinematographer Itay Gross, the demented dream sequences of bloodied sex scenes and operating table follies are dazzling to look at, a real mix of David Lynch surrealism and Cronenberg body horror. Yet these devilish visual delights masquerade the fact that we just don’t care about any of it. Despite a great performance, Pauline is a smug, insufferable and repugnant character throughout. The soundtrack is equally malevolent and arresting, a mixture of annoying plinky-ploddy tones and bawdy screeches. Totally gross.
Riddled with so many homages and tonal similarities to other films/filmmakers, it’s probably best watched with a movie scoresheet at your side. There’s Lynch and Cronenberg, along with the overbearing Carrie/Carrie’s mother relationship dynamic, high school apathy a la John Hughes, the faux-mordant humour and female teenage angst of Todd Solondz and his 1995 breakthrough Welcome to the Dollhouse. As if that wasn’t enough of a derivative overload, Bates manages to wrestle out some cameos from Twin Peaks’ ever-eerie Ray Wise as the George Bush adoring school principle, Malcolm McDowell as a disgruntled maths teacher, and – king of the trashy – John Waters appears as the grimacing priest-cum-psychiatrist who is trying to nurse Pauline back to good health, in the eyes of our lord saviour.
Excision is a pretty dark, trashy horror film, and certainly not for the faint hearted. A procedurally disgusting slog, filled with unearned homages, it’s a total bodge-job.