Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Excision (2012)

Excision (2012)
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Well, this was weird even by my standards. Excision isn't a normal horror film in any sense of the word. Outside the final ten minutes and the main character's psychosexual dreams/fantasies, very little of this film is designed to frighten. Instead, I think it'd be more apt to call Excision a very, veryblack comedy in the vein of John Waters, a comparison that is especially appropriate given his brief appearance in this film. It uses humor to get under the viewers' skin, more often than not playing its subject matter and its insane "heroine" for sick, sick laughs.

The cast is a huge part of this film's bizarre charm. John Waters as a priest, Marlee Matlin as a deaf guidance counselor who has to put up with condescending parents, Ray Wise and Malcolm McDowell infusing school faculty, of all things, with their larger-than-life personas... this film is bursting with "hey, it's that guy!" moments that, while small (few get more than two scenes), are packed with comic gold. Playing a larger role than them, yet infused with no less WTFery and quality, is former porn star Traci Lords as the ultra-traditional, domineering Southern housewife Phyllis. Likewise, Ariel Winter of Modern Family managed to take an underwritten role as the cystic fibrosis-stricken teen girl Grace and have some fun with it.

Few of them, however, match up to this film's leading lady, AnnaLynne McCord as the utterly deranged Pauline. I had once written McCord off as just another pretty face from the CW's central casting, and when I heard the praise being sent her way when this film debuted at Sundance last year, I did a double take. AnnaLynne McCord? The blonde bombshell from 90210? She who was involved in The Haunting of Molly Hartley, one of the worst horror films I have ever seen? Her, playing a teen outcast to rival Sissy Spacek in Carrie? And yet here I am, joining in on the praise. McCord was completely unrecognizable as Pauline, not only covering up her good looks under acne scars and awful hair, but going completely balls-out and fully embodying her character in ways that any actor would find daring, let alone one whose chief fanbase before this film was composed of teenage girls who watch 90210 and men who ogle her online. By the end of the film, I did not want to be in the same room as Pauline. McCord utterly owned this film.

First-time filmmaker Richard Bates, Jr. also propels this film forward. His writing moves so quickly that the film frequently skirts the edge of being incomprehensible, clinging on by the skin of its teeth. A lot of it is very uneven, and even at a brisk 81 minutes, some moments were hard to follow. However, when the writing is on, it is spot-on. My belly was aching from both laughter and from queasiness at a good number of scenes, most notably one where a man finds out that a woman is on the flow in the worst way possible. Bates' directing is likewise energetic, particularly in Pauline's fantasy sequences of combining sex, blood, and surgery, where the film goes all-out with throwing crazy ideas and crazy gore onto the screen. Lastly, the final scene, where Pauline finally makes good on her desire to "help" her ill sister Grace, stuck in my head and gave me chills for hours after the credits rolled.

Score: 4 out of 5

This is a film that, going purely by the sum of its parts, should not have worked as well as it did. I considered giving this a 3 right after I was done with it, but I started to like it more and more as I thought about the review. This film is brilliant in its insanity, both hilarious and chilling.

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