Friday, June 21, 2013
“Dear God, I have a lot on my plate at the moment: last week I had sex for the first time, my sister is slowly dying, and my mom – as I’m sure you know – is a total bitch.” Thus the prayer of sulky and socially inept teenager Pauline (Annalynne McCord). Prior to ‘Excision’, I was dimly aware that McCord was hugely popular in fuck-awful TV shows like ‘Nip, Tuck’ and the ‘90210’ reboot (and just typing “ ‘90201’ reboot” made me a little bit sick in my mouth). Post ‘Excision’, I have nothing but respect for the lady.
The objects of Pauline’s empathy and ire are, respectively, Grace (Ariel Winter) who is suffering from cystic fibrosis, and Phyllis (Traci Lords) who is suffering from being a stuck-up control freak suburbanite mom. Prior to ‘Excision’, I was dimly aware that Winter had done a hell of a lot of TV roles and been in ‘One Missed Call’, and was very significantly aware that Lords had a background in adult entertainment not to mention a shedload of equally exploitative B-movie roles. Both were infinitely better in this than I had any reason to expect.
In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that – with the exception of its somewhat abrupt ending – ‘Excision’ is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in ages, and one of the best comedies. Note, I keep the categories separate. ‘Excision’ doesn’t slot into the comedy/horror subcategory as easily as, say, ‘Tremors’, ‘Slither’ or ‘Dale and Tucker vs Evil’. The comedic elements – and don’t let that trite little turn of phrase undersell it: this film is funny as fuck – are redolent of ‘Heathers’ or a nastier, less day-glo version of ‘Mean Girls’, while the horror tropes bring to mind the body horror of early Cronenberg infused with the in-yer-face grotesquery of Takeshi Miike or Kim Ki-Duk.
The set-up is basically an extrapolation of the interrelationships mentioned above. Pauline’s all-consuming love for her sister is the one constant by which she offsets being high school pariah, piggy-in-the-middle during her parents’ arguments, a lank-haired virgin, and dealing with an almost constant onslaught of cold sores which she blames on her father. His sin? Giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after a swimming pool accident when she was younger. Pauline, in short has issues, and the film opens with the sublimation of her various psychological quirks into the dream state. It’s the first many dream sequences that punctuate the narrative, and they provide ‘Excision’ with most of its deliriously twisted iconography: dream sequences predicated on sexual imagery and clinical white backgrounds that generally don’t stay clinically white for very long. There’s also a lot of blood in Pauline’s dreams. Gallons of it.
But she’s not the kind of lass to dream her life away, is our Pauline. She quickly sets about resolving her issues. The virginity problem? Oh, look – there’s a football jock with an ice queen girlfriend who isn’t satiating his needs. Problem solved! (The payoff to this scene, channelling the imagery of Pauline’s dreams, will probably leave you feeling a little queasy.) The mom problem? A quick word with God: “Kill my mother. Kill her. You’ll probably want to make it painless. I get it – that’s your thing – but hear me out: a little pain never hurt anyone. And besides, you can always just blame it on the devil.” (Okay, jury’s still out on the efficacy of this method). Imminent death of beloved sister? Study to become a surgeon. Which is where Pauline encounters a couple of barriers: (i) timeframe, (ii) she’s a really crap student.
Can anyone guess where writer/director Richard Bates Jr is going with this? (And while you’re all jotting your answers on a postcard, let me take a moment to marvel at the serendipity of this fucked up little movie being directed by someone called Bates. Sometimes life is just priceless.)
‘Excision’ sets out its stall with such razor sharp efficiency (it clocks in at 81 minutes, five of which are the end credits) and sets up its denouement with such black-hearted delight that there are no real surprises on offer … except to wonder, as the sick jokes keep coming and McCord’s performance drills deeper and deeper into Pauline’s love-lacerated soul, just how far Bates and his anti-heroine can push things. And how they can possibly maintain the gallows humour.
The answer – without giving anything away – is that they know exactly when to cut off the laughing gas. ‘Excision’ is a body horror film with a surgery-obsessed protagonist. To use the obvious metaphor, once it’s finished operating on you, it doesn’t allow a gradual drifting awake in a recovery ward followed by a full clinical review before the ambulance carefully drives you home avoiding the potholes and speed bumps. No, siree. It stitches you up, tosses you back on the gurney like a sack of potatoes and sends you hurtling down the corridor, bashing through a fire door and out of the hospital, screaming.