Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #315
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 21, 2012 (Sundance)
Sub-Genre: Body Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 81 minutes
Director: Richard Bates, Jr.
Producer: Dylan Hale Lewis
Screenplay: Richard Bates, Jr.
Special Effects: Cris Alex, Stephen Imhoff
Cinematography: Itay Gross
Score: Steve Damstra II, Mads Heldtberg
Editing: Yvonne Valdez, Steve Ansell
Studio: BXR Productions
Distributor: Anchor Bay Films
Stars: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Jeremy Sumpter, Malcolm McDowell, Matthew Gray Gubler, Marlee Matlin, Ray Wise, John Waters, Matthew Fahey, Sidney Franklin, Molly McCook, Natalie Dreyfuss, Cole Bernstein, Emily Bicks, Brennan Bailey
Suggested Audio Candy ♬
The Pacific Ocean “Waterflower”
I’ve been a student of film for well over thirty years and it takes a lot to leave me flabbergasted. During that time I have watched a great deal of movies, been underwhelmed by my fair share of so-called classics and pleasantly surprised on a number of occasions also. However, it takes a lot to shock me. Having just watched debutant Richard Bates Jr.’s Excision, I can categorically retort that I’m in a state of stupefaction. This is not on account of its lurid imagery, although these macabre punctuations are effortlessly amongst the most ghastly ever committed to celluloid. Instead I’ve simply been left sideswiped by its quality.
Excision originally started out life as a twenty-minute short in 2008 and turned heads with its fleeting depiction of escalating teenage angst, interspersed with jarring dreamlike scenes of debauchery. Clearly it was a labor of great love for the rookie filmmaker thus, four years later, he chose to elaborate on his suburban nightmare further, this time enlisting the talents of a whole plethora of established names from Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, John Waters, and even Oscar winner Marlee Matlin. In addition, he cast the stunning AnnaLynne McCord in the lead role, playing completely against type as the disheveled, ill-postured social misfit. What he achieved is nothing short of astonishing.
“Can you contract an STD from having sex with a dead person?”
Pauline (McCord) is a round peg in a square hole. At first glance her family appears functional in the same manner that, upon first introduction, Ed Gein may have looked like a delightful candidate to share a mug of herbal tea with. In fact, they’re barely serviceable as a family unit; religious nut mom Phyllis (Lords) rules with an iron fist, henpecked dad Bob (Bart) can barely mask his contempt at the fact that his wife carries his testicles about in her clutch bag, younger sister Grace (Winter) is suffering from steadily worsening cystic fibrosis, meanwhile Pauline is the elephant in the room. Seemingly cut from a different cloth from the rest of the clan; she is unkempt, garbed in drab attire, riddled with acne scars, and it appears as though she was switched at birth.
“I’m ready to lose my virginity. It’s a common misconception that having intercourse during menstruation is unhealthy. When I lose my virginity, I want to be on my period”
She is midway through the transition into womanhood and currently experiencing a heightened level of sexual longing. Her fantasies are anything but par-for-the-course and consist of all manner of debauched shenanigans involving the letting of blood. To those around her, it may seem like Pauline lacks ambition but the truth is that she is insanely driven; firstly to shake off that pesky virginity which has been loitering for way too long and secondly to pursue a career as a surgeon. Losing her maidenhood is the more readily achievable goal and she finds herself a suitable donor in no time. Emotional entanglement isn’t an issue as she views her chosen suitor as something of a life-sized dildo and his presence is only to serve the sole purpose of popping her blood-red cherry.
McCord’s performance is nothing short of masterful; particularly because, despite her being largely stand-offish, vulgar in the extreme, and seemingly disconnected entirely from those around her, there are moments where the façade subsides and we see Pauline for exactly what she is…a scared teenager with a larger heart than she is credited for. Even her turbulent relationship with her parents, particularly her desperately discontented mother, is more than simply black and white; while her younger sister is her everything and she is desperate to better her situation regardless of remuneration. Bates knows exactly how to write multifaceted characters and is disinterested in only presenting one side of the coin. In McCord he has a courageous and dedicated lead but it’s not just her who shines brightly.
“I’m gonna get married one day. To a black guy”
“Well, don’t expect for him to be faithful. African-Americans are notorious adulterers. Don’t look at me like that, Bob”
Lords, who began her pilgrimage in the adult film industry whilst underage before enrolling in acting school and altering her trajectory entirely, gives a career best as the exasperating Phyllis and, as much as she is portrayed as an insensitive cunt, her fleeting moments of reflection are truly affecting. Here is a woman, much like Annette Bening’s Carolyn from American Beauty, and portrayed just as masterfully, whose callous front is exactly that…a defense mechanism. Beneath her toughened skin are softer furnishings and, the fact that any glimpses are so scarcely observed, just make them all the more agonizing. Comparisons with Sam Mendes’ pièce de résistance don’t end there as Bob echoes Lester in many ways, albeit at a prior stage of his transmogrification. Bart spends much of his screen time burrowed in the dailies, in an attempt to shut out his disenchantment. The most slight facial expressions convey his frustration exquisitely, but he is very much aware that Excision isn’t about any Lester-like epiphany. This is Pauline’s show.
“Your vagina looks like a diseased ax wound. I actually get afraid that I might get a yeast infection just being in the same room”
The script is infused with pure plutonium throughout; McCord’s priceless exchanges with both her peers and elders are too plentiful to tally and every last cameo plays to the strengths of each respective legend Bates Jr. acquires perfectly. American Beauty comparisons aside, and this would act as ideal companion piece, it is far more of a natural progression to Brian De Palma’s Carrie than the remake could ever have dreamed of becoming. I have read comments suggesting this resemble a fusion of David Cronenberg and Todd Solondz and would be more inclined to concede to the latter. Excision is not a horror movie, despite mortifying you consistently, and instead far more of a beautifully observed character study than anything else.
So about those dream sequences. Those of a faint disposition can expect it to be compromised critically as their impact is destined to impart its stubborn erosion on such psyches. Skilled director of photography Itay Gross works brilliantly with Bates Jr.’s stark vision and these clinically shot scenes are both designed and implemented with the precision of two veteran surgeons. When you consider both men had cut their teeth on shorts previously, it’s quite staggering that the end product be as polished as a precious gemstone. Make absolutely no mistake, this is one of the best films to emerge in 2012, and McCord’s turn alone adds credence to the argument that horror films should be recognized by Oscar and, to a marginally lesser degree, the performance of Lords also attests to this.
Through Keeper’s peepers, perfection is attained when a film can simply not have been realized any better, given its place in time. Excision made me howl like Kim Cattrall, shocked me to my liver, excising the organ before my own disbelieving eyes, made me furious, fearful, feel vulnerability, then confidence, before completing the spectrum of emotion by shattering the very heart within my chest. Such feats deserve not to go unsalaried and thus top marks are the least I can do to thank Bates Jr. and his gifted ensemble for granting me the exclusive experience of Excision. Excise warily Grueheads as, once the procedure has been completed, there’s no reversal.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Should you be sensitive to abortion, then add a bonus point as particular images will likely leave you beyond therapy. I’ve waxed on how this film affected my soul but let us now bow our heads and consider what lies beneath. I love nurses, the more scantily clad the better. Introduce a porcelain chariot filled to capacity with delicious sanguine fluid and damned right I’m preparing a screen saver for later. Elizabeth Bathory would be proud. Delicate minds, however, may well be irreversibly altered.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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