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Sunday, October 14, 2012

EXCISION -- DVD review by porfle

Categorized on IMDb as "horror", EXCISION (2012) doesn't fully delve into that until the final stages of its main character's descent into the dark recesses of her own burgeoning insanity.  Till then, "really weird" would be a fitting enough descriptor for this dizzyingly offbeat tale, because it certainly is that and then some.

AnnaLynne McCord owns her half of the screen as (very) troubled teen Pauline, while former porn star turned darn good actress Traci Lords stakes a claim on the other half as Pauline's manipulative, overbearing, and intensely anal mother Phyllis.  Mom's desperate attempts to turn Pauline into a "normal" daughter and Pauline's increasingly crazed rejection of such normalcy supplies EXCISION with most of its domestic drama and off-kilter humor.

Dad (Roger Bart) isn't much help, since Phyllis has henpecked the poor slob into total wussitude, and little sister Grace (Ariel Winter) has her own problems--while happy to be the Little Miss Perfect that Phyllis yearns for, she suffers from cystic fibrosis.  Her painful plight spurs Pauline into a hopelessly unrealistic desire to become a doctor, which is further intensified by her fervent obsession with blood. 

Blood, in fact, is a major motif from the start as the film begins smack dab in the middle of one of Pauline's gore-drenched, necrophilia-based dreams in which her sick psyche is allowed to run free.  Writer-director Richard Bates, Jr. contrasts the pseudo-normal look of Pauline's home life, which is shot much like a standard family TV series, with her dreams' flamboyantly grotesque and perverse images of necrophilic love, graphic abortion, and the sort of horrific surgical procedures that Pauline finds morbidly fascinating. 

Bates pays tribute to David Lynch both in these surreal scenes and in the casting of "Twin Peaks" alumnus Ray Wise as Pauline's school principal.  He also gives us another artistic influence, John Waters (PINK FLAMINGOS, HAIRSPRAY), in a small but funny role as the nonplussed priest to whom Phyllis takes Pauline in lieu of an expensive psychiatrist, an arrangement which does neither of them any good. 

More interesting casting comes in the form of Marlee Matlin and Malcolm McDowell, both bringing nice comic touches to their brief roles, and FRAILTY's Jeremy Sumpter as the unfortunate boy to whom Pauline offers her virginity in what becomes a nightmarish consummation of her twisted sexual fantasies.  Another demented setpiece--one of several--is the cotillion Phyllis pushes Pauline into attending, which turns out to be filled with boys and girls much younger than she who are woefully unprepared for an encounter with her. 

The relationship between Pauline and Phyllis becomes more volatile as the girl's behavior grows increasingly erratic and abnormal, finally reaching an advanced "acting out" stage which pushes the film firmly into horror territory.  At times, AnnaLynne McCord even begins to resemble the undead title character in DEADGIRL with her bad skin, cunning glare, and intense facial expressions.  What happens during the film's final minutes is both tragic and mortifying, with a fadeout that leaves the dazed viewer with but one pressing question: "WTF?"

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The sole bonus feature is an enthusiastic commentary track with director Bates and star McCord.

It's pleasantly surprising to find that Traci Lords is a fine actress after all, and that first-time director Richard Bates, Jr. has managed to concoct such an impressive and darkly fun debut film.  But that's about all that's "pleasant" about EXCISION.  Mainly it's an intoxicating, disorienting descent into one psycho-teen's madness and perversion, and what happens when you take someone like that to see John Waters instead of a qualified psychiatrist.

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