Excision is one of the most bizarre, grotesque and gory films I have ever seen…and I loved it. I am not someone who particularly likes gory body horror films, but Excision was a wonderfully strange film that is a brilliant combination of gruesome horror and teen comedy, and achieves all it tries to attempt without ever being trashy or resorting to horror film cliches.
I reviewed Richard Bates Jr’s superbly strange Suburban Gothic a few weeks ago, so I was interested to see more of his work. It turns out that Mr. Bates has quite a bit of visionary talent behind the camera, as Excision was not only better than Suburban Gothic, but an utterly unique and original horror masterwork. However, what exactly made Excision such a great film? It is a difficult question to answer, because on the surface, there is very little that indicates that this would be a great film. In fact, if the storyline was anything to go by, it would just be seen as another forgettable gory comedy horror.
What I loved about Suburban Gothic was the oddball cast. Excision improves upon the method of truly out-of-the-box casting by creating a diverse and offbeat cast. The lead role of Pauline is played by AnnaLynne McCord, someone who made her career as being a pretty face on middling soap opera fare. Here, she is covered in acne, with greasy hair and a truly bitter personality. Traci Lords and Roger Bart (an underrated character actor) play her parents, the traditionally nasty and strict mother, and the laid-back, but concerned father, respectively. Ariel Winter takes a break from Modern Family to give the most sincere performance as Pauline’s dying younger sister. Extended cameos from John Waters (who also stole the show in Suburban Gothic) as the good-hearted but nasty priest, Malcolm McDowell as the bitter Math teacher, Jeremy Sumpter as the friendly popular jock and Marlee Matlin in a scene-stealing turn. The cast is wonderfully strange, and it is one of the elements that attracted me to this film.
The film lives and dies in the hands of McCord’s performance. She takes a character that would be normally uninteresting and fairly one-dimensional and brings so much depth to her performance. One needs to understand that Excision is not a straightforward horror by any means. It is a film about teen angst and turmoil, and the problematic nature of being a loner in a world where everyone else seems to be happy and content. The strange part is that Excision doesn’t take the old-fashioned high school film cliche of having the character desire, more than anything, to have friends. Instead, she is simply someone who wants to be herself, and everyone around her actually means well, and perhaps she is the reason why she is a social pariah. I don’t think I would be wrong in thinking that perhaps Bates was influenced, by some strange chance, by the films of Todd Solondz, because I saw some homages (perhaps indirect) to his films in this, which I think was remarkable, as bringing this into a horror allows for instantaneous characterization, something many horror films hardly ever pay attention to.
Perhaps what I thought was most exciting about this film was how the horror is there, and it is abundantly shown to us throughout the film, but it doesn’t exist in the real world (until the very end) and takes place almost entirely in dream sequences throughout the film. The horror, in no uncertain or unclear words, is absolutely revolting. The gore throughout this film is some of the worst I’ve ever seen – and that’s absolutely fantastic. There is nothing worse than a film that tries to be shocking without bringing any actual style into it. I am reminded of the unrelenting gore and horror of David Cronenberg’s work, and how Bates doesn’t flinch for a moment from showing the audience some absolutely revolting and disgusting imagery. The dream sequences are thankfully brief, and they range from mildly comical to absolutely, gut-wrenchingly gross. I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that Bates used the format to actually make the audience cringe. Some of those scenes were highly questionable and the morality behind them left a lot to be desired. However, Bates pushes the boundaries of the film in an extraordinary way, and while I may not have necessarily enjoyed the gruesome nature of the film, I most certainly can appreciate the motivations behind it. Just please be warned, if you have any intolerance for gore, or a weak stomach, this film will be a nightmare for you, because if you are of the faint of heart, you will probably pass out at some of the moments in this film. I know I nearly did, and while it isn’t exactly pleasant, the scenes are short and sporadic, and contribute wonderfully to the horror aspect of this film and make the final scene so pertinent.
My biggest issue with Suburban Gothic was that it was a little too cold. The characters were well-performed by the actors, but their motivations and actions were not explored fully. Excision, as gory as it is, actually explores the characters very well, and creates a story that is heartbreakingly real. I keep referring to Suburban Gothic, because I think it is a wonderful parallel to Excision. Where Suburban Gothic dealt with ghosts and ghouls in the real world, Excision deals with the ghosts that haunt our mind. There is absolutely nothing supernatural in Excision – the horror is entirely contained within the mind of Pauline. She is mentally disturbed, and her actions and thoughts are terrifying. However, this film creates a sense of dread in the fact that Pauline’s parents never actually realize how sick their daughter actually is. That is the real horror of this film – the fact that the signs were clearly there, but they could offer her nothing at all because they didn’t believe she was sick. Only in the final moments of this film, which could quite possibly be the most touching and haunting final moments in a horror film ever, do the characters actually realize the reality of their situation.
Excision manages to be outrageous and very funny, and of course deeply gruesome and gory. However, it has a strong vein of emotion that flows freely through it. Some of the moments of this film touch some raw nerves, and considering that this is the rare horror that doesn’t exactly deal with the supernatural, but instead on the thoughts and desires of a seemingly innocent and idealistic person, it is difficult for the scenes where Pauline’s mother professes to never loving her daughter, or the touching interactions between Pauline and her younger sister, that bring a strange burst of humanity into the film. It isn’t very often a horror film moves you, but this one will most likely hit you in some ways you didn’t quite expect, which is an absolutely lovely surprise.
I thought Excision was great. Richard Bates Jr. is a director I think we should be keeping our eyes on. He’s got a penchant for visual storytelling and narrative writing, and he creates original ideas that are funny and very unique to the genre. So far, he is two for two, and his next film, Trash Fire, has definitely entered my sphere of interest, and I can’t wait to see it. I think we should keep our eyes on Bates, because if his previous two films have anything to say about his talents, then he most certainly has tons of it.
Excision is a fantastic film. If you are in anyway prone to squeamishness, or if you don’t like the sight of blood and gore and bodily organs, then this film isn’t for you. However, if you want a funny, touching and often very gruesome horror-comedy, then this one is certainly for you. It deserves more notice, and I hope that I can in some way help get this film some kind of positive exposure, because it is a wonderful film.