Fantasia 2012: ‘Excision’ extremely unsettling, often amusing

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Directed by Richard Bates Jr.

Screenplay by Richard Bates Jr.

2012, USA

Writer-director Richard Bates. Jr. draws on years of movie-watching for his audacious feature debut Excision. The most obvious influences for Excision is possibly Brian DePalma’s Carrie, Todd Solondz’s Welcome To The Dollhouse and Michael Lehmann’s Heathers. Toss in equal parts Gregg Araki, Dario Argento, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and John Hughes and an ending reminiscent of Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers – and Excision might just be the best “adolescent misfit” movie in a very long time.

Richard Bates Jr.’s dark domestic offbeat black comedy (a passion project converted from his 2008 short with the same name), is greased up with enough cultural references, sarcasm, graphic sex and bloody violence to turn John Waters into a preacher man. Yet despite the controversy stirred up earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, it is important to note that Excision avoids falling victim to the usual trappings of the average independent horror film. Every violent and grotesque twist serves a purpose outside of shock value, helping to move the story forward and flesh out the complexity of the main character.

Unfolding with an undeniable artistic clarity of vision, this well-acted, disquieting little character study could very well be the distant cousin to Lucky McKee’s May, a creature made specifically for the midnight-movie circuit. Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is a diabolical high-school outcast with a sociopathic sense of entitlement and two life goals: losing her virginity and researching ways to save her Cystic-Fibrosis affected sister. She goes about both tasks with meticulous diabolical planning, while in her spare time praying to a God she doesn’t believe in and suffering from erotic nightmares involving mutilation with delusions of becoming a self-taught surgeon.

Elevated by a breakthrough performance by the 90210 star, AnnaLynn McCord, Bates Jr. stuffs the supporting cast with camp icons Traci Lords, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise and John Waters – all of course notorious for past involvement in boundary-pushing cult films. McCord gives a performance devoid of any vanity, one of the bravest performances since Robin McLeavy in The Loved Ones. Her Pauline is a geeky pimple faced outsider with herpes-infected lips, a bad attitude and little respect for anyone or anything. Unlike most teenagers, Pauline doesn’t care for the approval of her peers, her shrink, nor her family. Instead she’s determined on inflicting her perverse fantasies on everyone around. Her teen years are a veritable hell where the only way to alleviate suffering is by making others suffer along. Lords gives a bravura performance as Pauline’s fanatic mother while McCord finds ways to make Pauline unlikeable and likeable in equal measure. Their final on-screen moment together is a combination of pathos and shocks – a grand guignol nightmare orchestrated with the creepy elegance and jaw-dropping precision of Dario Argento’s finest moments. Only unlike Argento’s work, the dark climax is carried by the performances, and not the visual terror on display.

Barely scraping together the necessary funding, Excision somehow manages to mesmerize with its sound, intrigue with its visuals, and terrify us with the set pieces for Pauline’s nightmares. Pauline’s vivid dream sequences are certainly inventive; the film is beautifully shot and the soundtrack selection is stellar. Excision is cold yet personal – a sharp provocative character study and Bates, a director to watch out for.

– Ricky D

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