Excision (2012)

12 Nov


The subversion of genres and their tropes is something many filmmakers attempt.  Commendable as such efforts might be it’s incredibly difficult to get right.  Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods was remarkable in its gumption, throwing knowing winks and nods at horror fans and thumbing his nose at the lazy, insipid torture porn that has come to dominate the oft maligned genre.  Thankfully, newcomer Richard Bates Jr’s pitch black suburban body horror Excision, whilst not thematically or stylistically similar to Cabin is another fine example of an original, refreshing take on the genre that titillates and surprises in equal measure.

Pauline (a headstrong and clinical AnnaLynne McCord) is an awkward misfit, existing in a suburban nightmare.  Haunted by horrific, sexual and incredibly visceral dreams, Pauline is every bit the outsider, but one who is both forthright and outspoken, which inevitably puts her at odds with her overbearing mother Phyllis (a delightful Traci Lords).  Poorly sister Grace (Ariel Winter) is the veritable golden child, whilst downtrodden dad in the middle Bob (Roger Bart) is a pushover unwilling to rock the boat.

Bates Jr’s sly, witty script and confident direction ensures that it’s never quite clear where this dysfunctional familial drama is going, treating us to visions of Pauline’s ethereal and insatiable bloodlust via creepy priest William (a delicious John Waters) and an uncomfortable visit to a cotillion class.  It’s intriguing and bizarre, but somehow it works, reminiscent of a stylised caricature of American Beauty or The Stepford Wives, an edgy, discomfiting insight into the cracks that exist on the surface of suburban America’s polished veneer.

Excision 2

Ostensibly, we witness Pauline’s steady decline into some sort of delusional meltdown. Whereas initially she is portrayed as an atypical teenager with an unsettling interest in anatomy and surgery, she also exhibits a caring, albeit pragmatic outlook.  But as events unfold, it becomes apparent that her grasp on reality is becoming ever more precarious, as she lets her good intentions mask the awful reality of her actions.

The denouement is phenomenally bleak, which marks a stark departure from earlier moments of black comedy (particularly in those moments involving Bart’s useless Bob)and is a damning allegorical indictment of the falsity that envelops Middle America, which is no less immune to the ravages of mental illness and the fallibility of the human condition.

Without tighter control over his material, Bates Jr’s picture may have drifted into muddled mediocrity, but thankfully it errs on the right side of farce by resembling an unusual curiosity.  Much of the credit for that must go to McCord’s haunting and disconcerting turn, whilst Bart and Lords provide some excellent support and Waters fleeting cameo is also a timely reminder that we could all do with more John Waters in our lives.

Excision certainly won’t appeal to all comers, but rather a Bates Jr. attempting something both bold and fiercely original than another desperate gore fest that proffers nothing new to the genre.

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