What should a good horror film achieve? Should it scare, make you jump, unsettle you, have you hiding behind a cushion for fear of what might be lurking round the corner? The answer to all of the above is of course; yes. But perhaps more importantly a good horror film should have you both fascinated and repulsed in equal measure. Like rubbernecking on the motorway as you pass a particularly violent accident, a horror film should have you gawping at the screen in morbid curiosity of what is going to happen next. Excisionmanages this by being a wonderfully dark dissection of a deeply disturbed teenage girl.
Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) lives a fairly average life; her mother Phyllis (Traci Lords) is a controlling matriarch, her father Bob (Roger Bart) a hen-pecked recluse and her sister Grace (Ariel Winter), the embodiment of a perfect child compared with Pauline, is suffering from cystic fibrosis. But with her greasy hair, bad skin and morose outlook on life, Pauline is an outcast both at school and at home. Her parents can’t afford a therapist so send her to see their priest William (John Waters) but he fails to make any kind of break-through. All the while Pauline is planning for the future; she’s determined to become a surgeon, wants to help her sister get better and wants to lose her virginity. While on her period.
Yes you read that last bit right. Pauline, despite vague implications to the contrary, is more than just your average messed-up teen. She’s positively deranged and harbors more than a little interest in the darker side of life. But this isn’t some Carrie-like decent into psychosis. Pauline starts out this way, praying to a God she doesn’t believe in, asking him to painfully kill her mother, whilst having sadomasochistic, technicolour dreams so saturated in blood, guts and sexual imagery she should probably have been committed long before the film’s opening.
Based on his short film of the same name, Richard Bates Jr.’s feature debut is an assured and worthy entrant to the genre. It’s part Donnie Darko, part David Lynch but with extra helpings of cringe worthy gore. In fact so close to a Lynch sensibility is the film, what with its suburban setting and families keeping nasty little secrets, that Bates even finds room to include Twin Peaks’ Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) as Pauline’s absentminded headmaster.
Where the film slightly falls short is in making the transition from short film to full-length feature. The plot is more a series of events that revolve around Pauline’s disturbing mind and as such the end lacks the genuine jaw-dropping response Bates was no doubt aiming for. Happily though it never fails to unsettle you to squirm inducing levels. Thanks to the dream sequences, which are exquisitely shot, you know that it’s only a matter of time before Pauline flips completely into full on Psycho mode. That Bates manages to keep you hanging, watching the pot slowly boil to the point of explosion, is reason enough to invest in the film.
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Excision is the emergence of AnnaLynn McCord. Normally seen swanning around TV’s 90210, here she goes the Charlize Theron in Monster route of dispelling with her natural beauty to inhabit a character who is physically repulsive from the outset. Pimples, grease and an under bite permanently etched on her face make the physical appearance one thing but McCord manages to draw a vindictive level of dry sarcasm from Pauline. In doing so, no matter how much claret Bates spews on the screen, you’re always left waiting, anxiously, just as much for McCord’s deadpan delivery as you are the bloodletting.
You will cower in fear, you will feel ill from some of the more graphic scenes but Excision is a clinically executed horror film that will delight fans of the genre and repulse everyone else, which is exactly what it sets out to do. In an ideal world Pauline would get her own sequel in which she marries American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Suffice to say, there will be blood by the bucket load.