Richard Bates Jr. (Suburban Gothic) wrote and directed a feature film based on his own 2008 short film of the same name, making this his first feature film. Excision. A story of a teenage student who wants to be a surgeon, on its surface it sounds like a fairly normal, run of the mill, horror film, but it’s far from it. It’s a nightmare in suburbia through the eyes, and hands, of a disturbed teenage girl.
Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is an eighteen year old high school student who struggles to fit in due to her unkempt look and hostile nature. She is prone to dreams (or well-received nightmares perhaps) related to her delusional aspirations to be a top surgeon when she gets older. She appears to be sexually aroused by the dreams, many of which include surgical operations, blood and entrails, even her own severed head licking its lips. Her sister, Grace (Ariel Winter) has Cystic Fibrosis and requires regular care. Paulines’ mother, Phyllis (Traci Lords) is overbearing and forceful, showing borderline disgust, and sometimes out-and-out disappointment in Pauline and her obscure behaviour and way she carries herself. Her attempts to “straighten” her eldest daughter out, such as therapy and attending a cotillion, fall flat, causing her to become angrier and more conflicted regarding her relationship with her. Bob, the father, seems to just want a quiet life and doesn’t speak up unless pushed or unless his wife tells him to. With her peers at school judgingly laughing at her and her parents pushing her into avenues she doesn’t want to go down, Pauline’s plan comes to fruition in a shocking and gory final act.
I went into Excision knowing little about it, and I think that helped my enjoyment of the film. The cast are really good, and I was surprised at how convincing Traci Lords was at playing the hypercritical and pushy mother, Phyllis. She showed layers and a seething and boiling anger beneath her surface that I hadn’t expected to see. McCord (The Haunting of Molly Hartley), as lead character Pauline, was a joy too. A pretty actress who carries herself with femininity, she became the masculine, unhinged and delusional character and I thought she carried the film on her shoulders. The scenes in which she was plotting and thinking about her actions were great, showing a madness behind her eyes. There was plenty of surprising appearances in here too, with names like Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds), John Waters (Hairspray), Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God) and Ray Wise (Robocop) among others joining in the bizarro-fun. Roger Bart (Hostel II), as Pauline’s father Bob, and Ariel Winter (Modern Family) as her sister, Grace, brought some much-needed normality to the story, and characters for the surreal-minded Pauline to work off. Her bond with Grace is something vital to the story too, and was an element I would have liked to have seen explored more.
It is a short movie, at only 80 minutes, and I thought a lot more could have been done, especially if the running time had been extended by a half hour. There seemed to be a promise made, silently, as the film progressed, that things were going to get much weirder, darker and more surreal. While the dream-sequences from Pauline are bizarre and nightmarish, they aren’t nearly as regular as I’d expected. I think perhaps my expectations for surrealism were a little high, because while I had a lot of fun with the film, and it is darkly-peculiar, I thought it would be much more out-there than it ended up being. Still, don’t let my personal expectations lead you to believe that I didn’t enjoy the film, because I did, and I found it to be a fresh, original and interesting horror title that outshines many of the modern horror films I’ve watched in recent weeks. Traci Lords, and AnnaLynne McCord, stole the show, their performances making the film as good as it is and leaving a lasting impression along the way.
Writer and director, Bates Jr., did a fine job, and the film looks very nice thanks to the confident and clean cinematography from Itay Gross (Marzipan Flowers). For me, this is one I would recommend to those who are interested in something different, but aren’t going to expect the world from it. Sure, there are stranger films out there, gorier ones, and ones that will shock for real, and while this isn’t necessarily among them, it is still a really well done movie that does the horror genre proud.
Excision is available to watch on Netflix Streaming (UK), now.