out of Five
Running time: 81
By turns shocking, disturbing and darkly funny, this is a stylishly directed, sharply written and superbly acted coming-of-age movie that plays like a horror version of a Todd Solondz film.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Richard Bates Jr, Excision stars AnnaLynne McCord as Pauline, a misfit teenager who lives with her uptight mother Phyllis (Traci Lords), her put-upon father Bob (Roger Bart) and her beautiful younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter), who has cystic fibrosis. By day, Pauline dreams of becoming a surgeon in order to help cure Grace's condition and by night she's consumed with disturbing sexual fantasies-slash-nightmares involving surgical equipment and copious amounts of blood.
Pauline's school life isn't much rosier, as she's tormented by mean girl Natalie (Molly McCook) and barely tolerated by her exasperated teachers and school officials (Malcolm McDowell, Marlee Matlin and Ray Wise). And after aggressively pursuing Natalie's boyfriend (Jeremy Sumpter) to help her lose her virginity, Pauline turns her full attention towards helping her younger sister.
AnnaLynne McCord delivers a committed and excitingly unpredictable performance that is extremely engaging, even if we're never quite sure just how unbalanced Pauline really is. In addition, an effective character touch has Pauline saddled with greasy, unkempt hair and scab-encrusted skin for the entire movie; in a subtle critique of teen movie make-over scenes, even when Pauline is forced to dress up, put on make-up and attend a school dance, she still has an unsightly cold sore on her lip.
The supporting cast are equally good, particularly Lords as Pauline's frustrated mother, while Wise, McDowell, Matlin and John Waters (as a priest, who Phyllis appoints as Pauline's cheap alternative counsellor) are all very funny in small but perfectly cast roles. Indeed, the casting director on Excision is clearly some sort of twisted genius, casting John Waters as a priest, McDowell as a teacher, ex-porn star Traci Lords as an uptight mother and Twin Peaks' Leland Palmer as a headmaster.
On top of that, the script crackles with darkly funny, ultra-caustic dialogue (Pauline would be right at home in a Todd Solondz movie) and the gory scenes are extremely well handled, particularly during the fantasy sex scene.
The main problem with the film is that the numerous fantasy sequences never really find a place or an outlet in the rest of the film, as it's left unclear just how much of an effect they're having on either Pauline's sexual fantasies or her dreams of being a surgeon. Similarly, there are a number of scenes that feel disjointed or out of place; for example, Pauline overhears her mother saying something devastating, but that has no impact on future scenes and the subsequent behaviour of both characters remains unchanged.
Disturbing and darkly funny in equal measure, Excision is an enjoyably icky and extremely twisted coming-of-age movie with a blackly satirical edge and a terrific central performance from AnnaLynne McCord.