The release pattern of Excision is reverse from what we’re used to. It will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray today, but will play in theaters on November 2nd. I think we’ve finally reached the point where home video turnaround is so quick, it finally outstripped theatrical releases.
Excision is twisted, ballsy, nasty, kind of gross, and more than a little bit disturbing. When it’s not trading in discomfort and insanity, it’s ramping up its camp levels. It doesn’t bother delving into any real psychology, opting for a more stylized and recognizable horror thriller. And while much of the film seems like a splatter film only intended to shock, its ending clearly accentuates the tragedy of its clearly insane main character.
Like May before it, Richard Bates Jr.’s Excision is one of those twisted and squicky horror projects that focuses on the inner psychological workings of a darkened loner with twisted and illegal interests. It moves us largely into the headspace of the teenage Pauline (Annalynne McCord) and keeps us trapped there. Pauline is clearly a little mentally off, as she speaks her mind a little too boldly (she openly and dispassionately petitions a classmate to take her virginity), and has some rather elaborate pseudo-sexual fantasies about surreal bouts of impossible surgery. Yes, the film shows us her penny arcade nightmares, wherein she is a heavy made-up vixen, often covered in blood, wrapping bandages around bleeding sex partners, and often removing their organs. Her fantasies do have a kind of logic to them, the same way your sexual fantasies do, only with more blood and less sex.
The only opposition Pauline faces is her uptight mother (a very good Traci Lords), who wishes she would stop talking about surgery, and perhaps be a little more copacetic at the dinner table. Pauline’s family is depicted as repressive and monstrous in the suburban mould. Mom would have her be a debutante. Dad (Roger Bart) is a spineless jellyfish who rolls over whenever mom commands. Rather than visit a shrink, Pauline is sent to a clueless pastor (played by John Waters!) whom she berates and insults. Pauline would rather communicate with God directly, and we often see her prayers, which are conversational and frank. Her school is clueless as well, and her teacher (Malcolm McDowell!) would have her put in line, and her principal (Ray Wise!) eventually kicks her out of school. The only person in her life she loves is her little sister (Ariel Winter) who is slowly dying of cystic fibrosis.
Since Pauline has such elaborate (and shamelessly eye-grabbing) gore fantasies, and since she talks so much about her active interest in being a surgeon, you just know someone will get sliced open by the film’s end. This means you’ll spend a good deal of the film’s running time waiting for the inevitable. Indeed, even though it’s only 81 minutes, much of Excision feels like it’s stalling. Like it lured you in with promises of murder and gore, and is now reneging with this flick about psychology and the usual Hollywood messages of suburban hell.
Luckily, by the film’s end, we begin to enter a more complex drama, and Traci Lords, previously the film’s pseudo-villain, becomes a more sympathetic mom, Pauline becomes more of a monster, and the dynamic between the two begins to resemble something less horror movie cartoony, and something more genuinely wrenching and touching. I don’t want to give away the ending, but the film’s final moment is perfect; we really get to see that this family, despite all the torture and surgery fantasies, really cares. The final moment belongs to Traci Lords, who, over the years, has only improved as an actress. Seriously, man. Lords is pretty dang good.
Despite the ending, it’s still kind of a sensationalistic film that revels a little too much in its gore. Horror fans, though, might find themselves tempted to call it a minor classic. It’s not quite as good as Lucky McKee’s May, but it certainly warrants comparison. It might be a surprise.