Directed by Richard Bates Jr. Starring AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, John Waters, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Jeremy Sumpter, Malcolm McDowell, Marlee Matlin, Ray Wise Club, IFI, Dublin
If you’ve ever wondered what Pasolini’s Tron might have looked like, then check out the diseased fancies of this hip US shocker. In her own troubled mind, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord, right) is a demented surgeon conducting weird, eroticised procedures by neon light. In reality, she’s a greasy, awkward teen with a controlling mother (Traci Lords, excellent) and a passive, psychologically absent father.
Pauline’s extended unpopularity is both poignant and painful to behold. Her sole topics of conversation – STDs, mutilation – don’t play well with her high school peers. She seduces a popular girl’s boyfriend, with predictably mortifying results. The sticky act only intensifies her retreat into blood-drenched daydreams.
“Your body is a temple,” advises local pastor John Waters. Yes, that John Waters. As if the entire project wasn’t surreal enough, director Richard Bates has peopled his debut feature with iconoclasts. How could Pauline be anything but twisted when her maths teacher is a bellowing Malcolm McDowell and her headmaster is a menacingly twinkly Ray Wise?
Excision’s ensemble cast do deft work to keep pace with the film’s subtle transitions from campy satire to indigestible horrors. Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin sneers disdainfully from the corner of every frame she occupies. Modern Family’s Ariel Winter is charming as cystic fibrosis sufferer Grace, Pauline’s younger sister and the light at the heart of a very dark film. McCord, a former model, turns out to be a real- life shapeshifter and a revelation.
Bates mostly keeps the in-jokes on the down-low, but does wring occasional moments of high comedy from his countercultural cast – “Chew with your mouth closed: I raised you better than that,” primly admonishes former adult movie star Lords.
However, don’t be fooled by the wicked humour or the art department’s giddy tableaux. The title evokes the brutal ritual of female genital circumcision; the rest of the film figuratively lives up to the billing.
There are echoes of some very fine horror films here. In thought and in deed, Excision revisits the menstrual angst of Carrie and May, the body horror of Dead Ringers, and the scary matriarch of Mommie Dearest. We’ve just never seen all those things collide quite as frightfully
as they do here.